Pioneer of the Justiciable Problems Approach to Access to Justice in Canada Moving to the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice

Ab Currie, currently Chief Research Advisor and Principal Researcher: Legal Aid and Access to Justice, in the Federal Department of Justice, is leaving the Government of Canada to join the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice (CFCJ) as the Senior Research Fellow. CFCJ is Canada’s leading non-governmental independent think tank devoted to research and policy development on access to civil justice and civil justice reform. Dr. Currie will also hold a visiting appointment at the Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, where CFCJ is currently housed. He will be fully engaged at the CFCJ by April 1, 2013.

Ab Currie, originally trained as a demographer, has been a key player in major research initiatives by Justice Canada on legal aid and access to justice across the country for more than two decades. He has also collaborated internationally with researchers around the world. In recent years, he has been hugely influential in developing justiciable problems research in Canada. Justiciable problems are basically problems ordinary people have that have a legal dimension and in theory are resolvable through the justice system. In the United Kingdom, academics Hazel Genn and others have used research about justiciable problems to reorient how access to justice policy is developed, making it more focused the paths to justice available to users for resolving their problems. In a series of major studies he conducted in Canada, Dr. Currie discovered that over a three year span, 50% of Canadians have at least one justiciable problem and that for many Canadians justiciable problems cluster together and have a cascading effect. Moreover, there are very different rates of resolution as well as ways to resolve these justiciable problems, depending on the nature of the problem and its relationship to other justiciable problems.

At the CFCJ, Ab Currie will develop further this pioneering work on justiciable problems and its insights for access to justice in Canada. The paths to justice are diverse and the justiciable problems approach offers a way to better understanding the significance of self-help, legal information, and phenomena such as the increase of self-represented litigants. His presence at the CFCJ will ensure that it continues to be a leading pan-Canadian vehicle for research and innovative thinking about access to civil justice issues in Canada.

Les Jacobs, Executive Director, Canadian Forum on Civil Justice


  1. Ab Currie has done great work on access to justice, really expanding the meaning of the term in Canada. I’m glad he’s going to be continuing that work. It’s time people stopped thinking of ‘justice’ as meaning the court system only, or even dispute-resolution systems only. It also should include the substantive laws as well, since their content, comprehensibiilty and operability can make a big difference to people’s lives in a way that involves ‘justice’ in a meaningful sense.

  2. The paths to justice are diverse and the justiciable problems approach offers a way to better understanding the significance of self-help, legal information, and phenomena such as the increase of self-represented litigants

    When I read “the paths to justice are diverse” I wonder if you (or Ab) would characterize the adversarial judicial process as one path among other possible paths? Can we imagine other processes that have higher probability of eliciting the outcomes we want out of our Justice system?
    I’m also curious to know the role of technology, if any, in the scope of this research…

  3. Interesting overlap, Patrick, between your post this morning based on the Quebec consumer affairs ministry’s publication on access to justice and the news about Ab Currie going to the Access project.

    I don’t think Ab would deny, and I would not deny, that the adversarial justice process is a path to justice, for those who can afford it. Methods of making it more affordable are worthwhile. Technology surely is part of the answer.

    I think one of the key points from the bits of Ab’s research that I have read, and from my own work in law reform, is that there are lots of issues that can be fairly called ‘legal’ and thus involving ‘justice’ that will never come to the adversarial justice process in any foreseeable future, and some will never come at all, however cheap that process becomes. So we have to look at the ‘justice system’ in a different, more comprehensive and flexible way – because the problems these people have are real and serious problems, even if the adversarial justice process has nothing that will help solve them.

  4. Hi John – I’m all for looking at the Justice system as a whole, I fully agree! The adversarial judicial process is just one process part of a much larger system.

    In my professional capacity at the CCCT-CCTJ, I am interested in leveraging technology opportunities to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of judicial, court and tribunal processes.

    As a lawyer and private citizen, my scope of interest is larger. I would like to (a) imagine the Justice system as a black box from which we collectively, as a society, want to maximize subjective individual beliefs that we live in a just society; and (b) be prepared to re-think how we collectively achieve this outcome. Part of this re-thinking is realizing that there are other models than the “adversarial justice” model.