This could be The Year of Access to Justice in Canada. Whether it is a good year or a bad year for Access to Justice is TBD. The fate of Access to Justice is to be determined by governments, by the courts, by the legal profession and yes, by lawyers ourselves.
Dark Clouds on the Horizon: Justice Budgets 2012
In 2012, we are likely to see serious fiscal pressures on Access to Justice through budget freezes or cuts to legal aid plans, courts and other justice programs. Serious cuts to legal aid have already been proposed in the UK and there is job action in British Columbia protesting against a decade of cuts. With massive budget deficits at the federal and provincial levels, justice budgets are likely to be on the chopping block. For example, in Ontario the latest figures for 2010-11 show that the Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG) had expenditures of almost $1.44 billion. The largest single expenditure consisted of transfers to Legal Aid Ontario of $320 million or a whopping 22% of the MAG budget. If each Ministry is asked to find 10% in savings, Ontario’s MAG will have to come up with $144 million in savings. Where is this going to come from? Not from fighting crime or from victims services in all likelihood. Ministry of Finance officials always target legal aid for savings precisely because it is the single largest expenditure in the justice budget.
Thus, Government is not going to be the answer to Access to Justice in 2012. But neither are the courts likely to provide much in the way of solutions. The courts have contributed more in the way of rhetoric than in concrete solutions to the access problems.
Solutions: Lawyers – Heal Thyselves . . . and the Justice System
Solutions – if they are to be found, must come from the legal profession itself. As the Governor-General implored us in August at the CBA’s National Legal Conference in Halifax:
We in the legal community have a responsibility to take the lead in reforming the court system for the public good; remember our oath to “improve the administration of justice.” Justice delayed is justice denied. Or, as Joseph Howe pointed out: “He who delays or withholds justice excites discontent and sedition; [the King] would tell them that they were the rebels.
In further posts, I will discuss potential solutions from the courts and from the profession. Welcome to 2012!