The Chief Justice’s speech in Calgary, which I mentioned here last week, illustrated that despite all of our efforts to address access to justice the problem is getting worse, not better:
The cry for access to justice is rising from what was once a dull murmer to a crescendo.
She noted that the courts and government share some of the responsibility for the solution, but lawyers play an important role too, especially in pressuring these other actors to take action.
The Canadian Bar Association launched a campaign in Calgary, #whataboutalex, to humanize the struggle for access to justice. Kim Covert of National explains,
“Alex” is several avatars representing composites of people with limited or uncertain access to the justice system that the Access to Justice Committee met in the course of preparing its Reaching Equal Justice report. As the policy issues relating to those avatars arise during the election – or even if they don’t arise – we’ll be tweeting about our various Alexes and inviting members to retweet and to engage in a conversation with candidates and their networks about what government can do to improve access to justice. “Every person should have fair benefit and protection of the law when a fundamental legal interest is threatened. Together we can put the issues of equal justice on the political radar,” the campaign materials say.
The #whataboutalex website provides narratives of how the lack of access to justice frequently affects the lives of Canadians. The intent is to provide a voice to Canadians who have otherwise been ignored by the legal system and the legal community.
One of the greatest challenges of dealing with legal reform and public members demanding access to justice is the perception that lawyers are rather indifferent to the problems. I wish I could say that was not true, but for far too many lawyers as long as their bills are being paid they have little incentive to commit to change.
The CBA is the notable exception to this, and #whataboutalex provides a powerful call to not only the politicians in this upcoming election, but also the rest of the bar who may need to be reminded that our professional responsibilities extend beyond our relationship with our clients:
5.6-1 A lawyer must encourage public respect for and try to improve the administration of justice.
Where this administration of justice is ineffective for the vast majority of the public, the incentive to participate in change to encourage respect for this system has never been more dire.