As Julie Macfarlane noted here last week, it is imperative that those in the legal profession seeking to address issues in access to justice bring a variety of perspectives into the tent, including most importantly, the public whose needs are being addressed.
One of the highlights for me at last week’s Pitblado Lectures was hearing from a number of panelists who are not lawyers in response to the various access to justice-themed presentations delivered by an assortment of judges, academics and lawyers. These panelists’ views were insightful and refreshing and provided a much needed “reality check.”
Dr. Jane Ursel made a number of important points at the end of the first day’s schedule. Dr. Ursel, a professor of sociology and domestic violence researcher, emphasized the importance of asking whether efforts to increase access to justice are based on reliable evidence so as ensure that it is the problem and not the symptom that is being addressed.
She went on to comment that the administration of justice is an important component of access to justice. The administration of justice, she said, is like housework – when it works, it’s invisible; when it doesn’t, everyone notices. She pointed to the enormous public costs associated with a lack of access to justice and suggested more efforts be made to calculate those costs and use that information as a tool to convince governments to increase their investments in access to justice as a cost-avoidance strategy.
Dr. Ursel asked why the legal market couldn’t change in the same ways that the medical system has changed. Access to healthcare has increased through a shift to primary care access points where individuals may receive care from a nurse practitioner, pharmacist, physiotherapist or a physician. Why, she asked, can’t legal services also be provided through an integrated and timely multi-disciplinary service delivery model?
Drew Perry, a retired Manitoba government bureaucrat and current Complaints Review Commissioner for the Law Society of Manitoba, commented on the need for lawyers to get creative and think sideways in addressing issues of access to justice. He noted that change has been defined as “relentless pressure applied continuously” and suggested that access to justice needs a champion to move the agenda forward toward meaningful change.
Neil Cohen, Executive Director of the Community Unemployed Help Centre and Marston Grindey, a Law Society of Manitoba Lay Bencher and restorative justice advocate rounded out the reality check panels with their suggestions on what is needed from the perspective of those with boots on the ground.
As Julie Macfarlane noted, it is essential that we, the legal profession insiders, get over our:
“…feeling that only certain people can “speak” for the A2J Sector, and anyone who steps forward from the lower ranks – a court services foot solider, a law student with a great idea, a “non-lawyer” (argh!) from a social agency, or, most ghastly of all, a member of the public – is speaking “out of turn”.”
I wholly agree that these are the voices that we must listen to and learn from. As was very competently illustrated by these layperson panel members, the legal profession has much to learn from those outside our profession who have observed and often, lived the challenges of seeking access to justice.