Ontario justice groups launch access action

In an initiative the Law Society of Upper Canada’s outgoing treasurer is touting as his legacy, the regulator brought some 100 members of the justice sector under the same roof for the first time this week to put their heads together on the access to justice crisis.

The law society’s access to justice initiative, known as TAG, creates a forum for the legal and justice sectors to foster teamwork on the access to justice front. LSUC Treasurer Thomas Conway, whose term concludes this month, says this is “without a doubt” one of his biggest accomplishments.
“Two years ago, when I was first elected, the goal I set was to define a new role for the law society in improving access to justice,” says Conway.

The need for a collaborative forum quickly became apparent, he adds, and the law society was in a position to facilitate it.

“I am very proud to see that move from a concept to a reality. Now, it will be up to the TAG participants to ensure its success,” he adds.  

Representatives from courts, government, academia, the bar, paralegal associations, and access to justice groups were at the inaugural meeting, and shared examples of what can be done.

At the meeting, participants discussed what they are already doing to share their knowledge with other justice groups, and brainstormed innovative ideas to make justice more accessible. Their suggestions included creating a sort of “incubator” for lawyers building a practice to help underserved clients, coaching self-represented litigants, and setting up a “legal brokerage” to assist family law litigants at a reduced fee.

Some others encouraged pushing for solutions that have been in the radar in Ontario, such as improving court technology, increasing the dollar limit for the Small Claims Court, and leveraging the skills of law students.

Criminal Lawyers Association president Anthony Moustacalis, who was at the TAG meeting at Osgoode Hall in Toronto on Tuesday, says he was happy with the range of ideas that were exchanged. He calls TAG “an excellent initiative by the law society.”

“The problems of access to justice have become so complex and diverse that there’s a real need for those who deal with people who aren’t represented or are marginalized to share information, and successes and failures, to know how to go forward,” says Moustacalis.

Collaborators will use the information they have to press government and other agencies to work together, he notes. While some access to justice issues are tied to funding, others aren’t, and will require simplifying current processes, says Moustacalis.

As the collaboration continues, there will be metrics in place to measure the success of the initiative, says Conway.

“When the law society approved its new access to justice framework, which included the establishment of TAG, it also committed to developing metrics to measure the effectiveness of that framework,” he says.

The regulator is in the process creating the roadmap for TAG, he says, which will include a means of measuring the law society’s success.

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