Who Else Has a Stake in Access to Justice?

There’s an airline that flies to northern Manitoba centres that has recently reduced its scheduled flights to and from Winnipeg. While one might not necessarily expect an airline schedule change to have an impact on access to justice, it’s possible that it just may.

Flights from Winnipeg to this centre depart each morning, allowing judges on circuit and lawyers from Winnipeg to get to court on time in the northern centre. The scheduled daily return flights to Winnipeg now depart either in the late morning or well-past dinnertime.

Is there a potential effect on access to justice? There could be, if the judges who wish to get back to Winnipeg at a reasonable hour feel they must hurry through their docket or lawyers don’t take enough time to instruct and advise their clients, so as to catch the earlier flight. This could impact the administration of justice both for those with and without legal counsel.

On hearing about the possible effects of this airline schedule change on both counsel and the court, I began to wonder if the airline should be invited to the access to justice table.

There is no question that the list of those with something at stake in addressing gaps in access to justice continues to grow.

The Law Society of Manitoba has for the past several years coordinated a Stakeholders’ Committee on Access to Justice. Those involved include courts administration, representatives of federal and provincial justice departments, law school, public legal education and pro bono organizations, legal aid, immigrant serving organizations and First Nations and Metis representatives, among others. In total, there are some seventeen stakeholders represented.

Donna Miller, Q.C., Manitoba’s Deputy Minister of Justice and Deputy Attorney General, described the work of the Stakeholders’ Committee in her paper, Enhancing Access to Justice: Some Recent Progress in Manitoba. She noted that for the past several years, this committee has been meeting 2-3 times annually. Their mandate is “to foster relationships and partnerships across the range of players who are interested in access to justice issues.” The overarching goal is for members to learn what is already being done and to identify gaps; coordinate efforts so as to avoid duplication; and to explore opportunities for partnerships and collaboration.

While I’m encouraged to see the range of perspectives participating in the Law Society’s Stakeholders’ Committee, I can’t help but wonder if their net has been cast widely enough.

For example, should commercial service providers also be invited to this table? What about real estate agents, accountants, family therapists, mediators, financial planners and others who provide services that address legal needs at the early resolution stage?

What about all those who support the business of law – legal publishers, software developers, transcription companies, legal process outsourcers and more? Should they also have a role in developing solutions and collaborating to maximize efficiencies and avoid duplication of effort?

Some, but not all clients are represented at the table. For example, victims of domestic violence, those involved in the child welfare system, organized labour and other employee groups, disability advocates and others with unmet legal needs are absent from the discussion.

My point isn’t that all of these voices should be added to Manitoba’s Stakeholders’ Committee but that the range of voices with a stake in the outcomes of access to justice discussions extends far beyond the boundaries of the formal justice system and even beyond the early resolution services sector.

I don’t know how these many and varied perspectives can be brought to the table, or if it is necessary to seek them all out, but I see enormous value in cross-sectoral approaches to problem solving. And I expect that there are innovative ideas as well as tried and tested approaches from other sectors that could be adopted and adapted by legal service providers to better meet the currently unmet legal needs of many Canadians.

Shouldn’t we at least ask them?


  1. Thanks for the great article, Karen. I agree with your point about suppliers; their perspective is usually included in stakeholder consultations along with a statement about their role in service provision (their influence, relationships with others in the system and the validity of claims made in the feedback).

  2. Great observations Karen! I have come to the view that if we are serious about reforming the system to improve access to justice then we simply have to open up the dialogue to include a much wider diversity of voices and perspectives. I have written previously on the topic of the potential of the social lab (http://www.slaw.ca/2014/02/28/the-social-lab-a-bridge-over-the-implementation-gap-for-justice-reform/) . It is a way of addressing complex social problems that is systemic, participative and experimental. The “participative” piece involves including voices from across the system (broadly defined) – everyone who touches or is affected by the system.

    Here in BC we held a workshop last weekend to explore the use of a social lab for family justice reform (I will be blogging on this very soon!). Without a doubt, the most powerful aspect of that workshop was the contribution of those participants who were from outside of the “justice system”. This went well beyond “consultation” – they were deeply involved in all of the discussions and opening the eyes of us “insiders” to new ways of thinking.

    The Social Lab approach provides a proven space / framework for this to happen. It is really exciting! Stay tuned.