The Canadian Bar Association’s Access to Justice Committee has released a new summary report today, Reaching Equal Justice: An Invitation to Envision and Act. The report explains why fundamental change in the legal system is necessary, exploring issues like the growth of unrepresented litigants, the role of technology, and potential partnerships between private practices and public resources.
The report emphasizes greater public education over the law, and approaching law as an essential life skill given that over the next three years given that 45% of the Canadian population will encounter some problem with a legal component to it. One of the greatest challenges is that 48% of Canadians lack the literacy skills to properly make use of the information which is already available online.
The report finds a parallel to the Pareto Principle in access to justice, and notes that 22% of Canadians have 85% of the legal problems. These trends tend to correlate with marginalized and socially disadvantaged populations, but also allows for some potentially targeted strategies to address this segment of the public.
There is also quite a bit in the report about reinventing the delivery of legal services, including limited scope retainers, developing legal expense insurance, and a significant emphasis on the need for more legal aid. Of course the report mentions the CBA Legal Futures Initiative, which is conducting a comprehensive examination of the future of law in Canada. One of the more fascinating concepts I came across in here is the development of incubator programs to develop people-centred law practices for younger lawyers.
Of particular concern to members of the bar is the finding that public confidence in the justice system is declining. Surveys conducted by the Committee found consistent views that the justice system was not to be trusted and was only for people with money. Survey respondents also indicated the legal system was inaccessible to ordinary people, and was arbitrary and difficult to navigate. As officers of the court this growing perception about the justice system becomes a professional responsibility for us to address.
Although reports and studies are great for brainstorming and identifying problems and solutions, reports by themselves do not solve the issues without action. I had the opportunity to speak to Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin yesterday and asked her about the role she envisioned for the bar in promoting access to justice. She indicated that the bar needs to keep an open mind in order to consider doing things differently than in the past, and a resolve to actually act on these reports in order to make a difference.
A copy of the video clip is available here.
A pdf copy of this map is available here.