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Access to Justice Blog

Analysis and opinions from the leading voices in access to justice research.

Issue of the Month
Andrew Pilliar
Sep 23, 2013

I remember being told at law school (not that long ago) that lawyers were more than “mere” legal plumbers.  The implication was that law was a profession (i.e. good, reputable), not a vocation (i.e. bad, dirty).  And indeed, as Professor Wesley Pue has noted, there is a long history within the legal profession of praising high-minded professionalism while denigrating the crass commercialism of business.[1]

I began to question how lawyers think about the business side of what they do while doing research for my LLM.  My research included a case study of Pivot Legal LLP, a full-service law firm in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, which had the dual goals of providing income for the well-known legal advocacy Pivot Legal Society and delivering affordable legal services within the community.  During my interviews, I heard many comments to the effect of “law is a business”.  The implication was clear: without a viable business model, efforts to provide accessible legal services will be short-lived.

The choice between profession and business is a false dichotomy.  Lawyers who are... Read More

Dr. Julie Macfarlane
Sep 23, 2013

"I have no choice – I am unrepresented not self represented. Its not that I think I can do this better than a lawyer, I have no choice. I don't have $350 an hour to pay a lawyer.”

“I was scared out of my mind. But I had a hard choice – either learning to do this for myself, or letting my daughter go, forever.”

The two quotes above are typical examples of what I heard from respondents in my study on self-represented litigants (SRL’s) in family and civil court. They dispel the myth that SRL’s have illusions of grandeur that they can do as good a job as a lawyer. In fact, the vast majority are desperate people with no more funds to pay for counsel (53% began with a lawyer but ran out of money to pay them).

The rise in the number of people representing themselves and the enormous frustration expressed by virtually all of them requires our immediate attention. The erosion of faith in the justice system is plain in the research data (which you can read about in the study’s Final Report).

The Final Recommendations of the study pull together the research data and the... Read More

Melina Buckley
Sep 19, 2013

The post was originally published on the Oxford Human Rights Hub blog.

The year is 2030 and all people living in Canada have equal access to justice regardless of means, capacity or social situation.  The justice system is designed around people’s needs taking into consideration differences in the legal needs of different individuals and groups and providing timely and personalized assistance, responding holistically to the legal and non-legal dimensions of problems and ensuring meaningful and effective assistance to navigate a range of paths to justice to achieve lasting and just outcomes.  People are empowered to manage their own legal matters with an emphasis on prevention where feasible and to participate in overseeing the justice system as a result they feel a strong connection to it and as a result there is a strong sense of public ownership.  Practices are evidence-based and the justice system is a nurturing environment for innovation and consists of learning organizations committed to continual improvement.

This ‘ambitious but possible’ vision of equal justice is at the heart of the Canadian Bar... Read More

Ab Currie, PhD
Sep 10, 2013

Innovating Justice by Sam Muller and the team at The Hague Institute for the Internationalization of Law (HiiL) is a very timely and valuable source of ideas about developing and implementing innovations in the justice field. Based on their pioneering work at the Justice Innovation Lab in The Hague, the authors provide food for thought for anyone contemplating entering the promising but often challenging waters of innovation. Let me share a few of their insights:

  • Innovation is not a simple, linear process. Innovation is an evidence-based and risk-taking activity. Innovators and, especially, the funders of innovations have to be prepared to learn from mistakes and use them as stepping-stones. 
  • Innovation is rarely the product of a brilliant flash of inspiration. It involves sustained hard work to develop ideas, engage stakeholders and implement and test innovations. Inspiration, however, is the essential ingredient that allows you to sustain the work it takes to innovate... Read More
Issue of the Month
Sana Affara
Aug 21, 2013

On July 22, 2013, the Law Commission of Ontario (LCO) released the final report for their Family Law Project: “Increasing Access to Family Justice through Comprehensive Entry Points and Inclusivity”. The report, which the result of over three years of consultation and study, makes a number of innovative recommendations and adds a welcome voice to discussions on family law reform.

The Problem with the Family Justice System

Obtaining a separation, divorce or dealing with child custody is a painful experience. It is emotionally, physically and financially draining. It is also a difficult period of adjustment, where individuals are forced to deal with the absence of their partner and the deterioration of their marriage all while adapting to new living arrangements. One of biggest challenges many people face during this period is navigating through the justice system. There have been a number of concerns raised about the inaccessibility of the family justice system due to its adversarial nature, inordinate delays and the unaffordability of legal services.... Read More