Sunday April 20, 2014

Lawyers seek to improve access to justice


Visiting court often underscores a problem with our justice system, that access to justice is unequal. In fact, one may not even need to visit court to see it in action. Two stories dominated Canadian media this year, the Senate and Rob Ford.

There are probably few people left, Paul Calandra notwithstanding, who believe there was not some kind of criminal wrongdoing in these cases, yet no charges and likely none coming any time soon or even ever for that matter.

Those who can afford expensive lawyers frequently do much better than those who cannot.

A 2011 analysis of 12 European and North American countries ranked Canada ninth in terms of access to civil justice. The criteria for the ranking were:

People are aware of available remedies.

People can access and afford legal advice and representation.

People can access and afford civil courts.

Civil justice is free of discrimination.

Civil justice is free of corruption.

Civil justice is free of improper government influence.

Civil justice is not subject to unreasonable delays.

Civil justice is effectively enforced.

ADR systems are accessible, impartial, and effective.

The Canadian Bar Association believes Canada “should be a leader not near the bottom of the pack.” This summer the organization held a summit in Saskatoon in an attempt to address the issues standing in the way of improving access to justice in Canada.

At this point the CBA has barely scratched the surface, but have identified three major obstacles:

Lack of political profile - no one “owns” this complex, generally invisible problem.

Lack of coordination - new initiatives take place in isolation leading to a duplication of efforts.

Lack of information - gaps in knowledge, no agreed upon measures of success.

It is discouraging that in a country that prides itself on being so progressive, we lag so far behind in basic democratic principles such as equal access to justice.

It is also discouraging that the issue is one that lacks political profile.

It is not surprising perhaps, since it is so complex and, of course, since funding for such an initiative in a tight economy is unlikely at best.

It is encouraging, though, that the Bar Association wants to do something about it. I applaud them for taking these initial steps.



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