Justice Starts Here

A new report focusing on issues of access to justice in Manitoba was released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (Manitoba). The report titled Justice Starts Here: A one-stop shop approach for achieving greater justice in Manitoba was authored by Allison Fenske and Beverly Froese, working with Legal Aid Manitoba’s Public Interest Law Centre.

The report examines access to justice in Manitoba, looking at both the landscape of legal services and the needs of those with legal problems. Building upon prior research efforts undertaken by the Manitoba Bar Association and the Manitoba Law Foundation, the authors also explore whether the concept of a single point of entry to obtain legal help (the so-called “one-stop shop”) could result in greater access to justice in the province.

This research dovetailed with the one-stop shop concept arising out of the work of The Law Society of Manitoba’s Access to Justice Steering Committee, which some time ago established a sub-committee to look specifically into the viability of this approach.

The report concludes that any new investments must “…recognize the importance of prioritizing community needs and the current lack of legal (and other social) services available in rural and Northern Manitoba.”

The authors make a number of recommendations including:

  1. Basing access to justice initiatives on the needs of those being served and in particular, giving consideration to the needs of populations disproportionately impacted by barriers to such access, including Indigenous peoples, newcomers and persons living with mental health issues.
  2. Improving coordination of existing service delivery through efforts of a coordinated working group, identification of priority issues in access to justice, taking advantage of opportunities to increase efficiencies and decrease inefficiencies or duplication of service, development of standards in training and knowledge building for service providers, developing standardized measurement and outcome reporting, improved communication and building of partnerships.
  3. Conducting a complete needs assessment and developing a standardized evaluative tool as a means to address the lack of data on supply and demand issues within the justice system so that this information could inform the dialogue around access to justice.
  4. Ongoing monitoring and evaluating of the data on the state of access to justice so that service delivery can be appropriately adapted to better meet the needs of Manitobans.
  5. Implementing measures to improve consumer protection in the provision of legal services by those who are not lawyers, but not in a way that stifles innovative service delivery that brings access to justice to those who need it most.
  6. Prioritizing service delivery to rural and Northern Manitoba if the one-stop shop model is established, and ensuring the success of any such approach through the provision of stable/sufficient funding, taking a careful approach to the kind of services included, and operating in an integrated (or holistic) approach that considers accessibility.

Although its focus is on Manitoba, this report will be particularly relevant to other jurisdictions with widely dispersed populations and few legal service delivery options outside of major urban centres. Also unique is the critical examination of one-stop shop models, making this a valuable addition to the Canadian literature on access to justice.

(Disclosure: I was among those interviewed in the research phase, provided input into the early drafts of this report and am currently Executive Director of one of the funders of the research, The Manitoba Law Foundation.)

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