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Judicial Resolutions A Call to Action, But Tough Questions Will Follow

Judicial Resolutions A Call to Action, But Tough Questions Will Follow
Thursday, June 15, 2017

This article originally appeared on The Lawyer’s Daily on June 12, 2017. It is the second article in Thomas Cromwell's exclusive The Lawyer's Daily column dedicated to access to civil and family justice.

Sometimes symbolic gestures are meaningful. And sometimes they are even important. The recent resolutions by the leaders of the Canadian judiciary concerning access to justice are both.

In April, at the urging of the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters, the Canadian Council of Chief Judges (composed of the leaders of the provincial court judiciary) and the Canadian Judicial Council (composed of the leaders of the federally appointed judiciary) passed resolutions supporting the aspirational goal of 100 per cent  access to justice and calling on all judges to demonstrate leadership and work with all Canadian citizens and justice system stakeholders to achieve that goal.

Here are the two resolutions.

The Canadian Judicial Council Resolution from its April 2017 meeting:

"THAT the Canadian Judicial Council supports the aspirational goal of the public having 100 per cent access to the knowledge, resources, skills and services needed to effectively deal with their civil, family and criminal legal problems. As part of its commitment to promote meaningful access to justice for all, the Council urges all federally appointed judges in Canada to demonstrate leadership and work with all Canadian citizens and justice system stakeholders to achieve that goal."

The Canadian Council of Chief Judges Resolution from its April 2017 meeting:

"The Canadian Council of Chief Judges supports the aspirational goal of the public having 100 per cent access to the knowledge, resources, skills and services needed to effectively deal with their civil and family legal problems. As part of its commitment to promote meaningful access to justice for all, the council urges all provincially appointed judges in Canada to demonstrate leadership and work with all Canadian citizens and justice system stakeholders to achieve that goal."

Cynics will say that these resolutions are meaningless gestures. But that would be to judge too quickly. A similar resolution passed by the U.S. Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of Court Administrators in 2015 has been a catalyst for change and a morning star of inspiration for access to justice advocates in that country. I hope we will be able to say the same thing in Canada a year from now.

More importantly, these resolutions provide important advocacy tools for change. They permit us — even invite us — to go back to the councils a year from now and ask what they have done to move beyond these welcome words to much-needed action.

And the reach of these resolutions goes well beyond the work of the two councils. Note that the resolutions call on all judges — not just chief justice and judges — to do two things: to demonstrate leadership and to work with the public and justice system stakeholders to achieve the goal of 100 per cent access to the knowledge, resources, skills and services needed to address their legal problems. The call for judges to work with others to this end sends an important message that collaboration and co-operation are needed, including from judges. And the resolutions’ vision of access to justice as being about more than courts and judges is groundbreaking.

So I am delighted with these resolutions and congratulate the chief justices and chief judges for their leadership. The resolutions are brimming with potential.  But now comes the hard part. The two councils, and the whole Canadian judiciary will need to be ready for a tough question a year from now: how have you moved on from hopeful talk to concrete action?

I hope many in the justice system and beyond will ask and that the Canadian judiciary has some good answers.

The Honourable Thomas Cromwell served 19 years as an appellate judge and chairs the Chief Justice’s Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. He retired from the Supreme Court of Canada in September of 2016 and is now senior counsel to the national litigation practice at Borden Ladner Gervais.