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Archive for the ‘Justice Issues’ Columns

Self-Represented Litigants in the Courts: How They Are Shaping the Jurisprudence

What happens to a system of expert legal adjudication when in some courts, up to three in four litigants are advocating for themselves without the assistance of counsel?

The influx of self-represented litigants (SRLs) into the family, civil and appellate courts (family: 50% across the country, up to 80% in some urban courts; civil between 30-50%; appellate around 30%) is transforming the justice system. And not, as many would say, in a good way.

Judges struggle to find a balance between appropriate assistance and explanation (as the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Pintea v Johns now requires,) and not . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

The Problems Canadians Experience in Key Areas of Life May Be Greater Than We Think

Millions of Canadians live with serious debt, persistent housing problems and face ongoing issues with unemployment. These problems have profound effects on their quality of life. They signal lives of adversity that are impacted by the economic and social constraints that these problems impose.

The Canadian Forum on Civil Justice’s (CFCJ’s) 2014 national survey of Everyday Legal Problems and the Cost of Justice[1] asked over 3,000 adults in Canada about their experiences with these markers of adversity. Separate from experiences of civil justice problems within the three-year reference period of the survey, participants were asked:

  • Looking back over the
. . . [more]
Posted in: Justice Issues

Self-Represented Parties and Sharp Practice by Counsel – Should We Be Thinking Differently?

War is the means by which nation states have sometimes resolved their differences. Litigation is the means by which people in our society sometimes resolve their differences. In both cases, there is value in prescribing the rules of engagement.

As wars between sovereign states have become less common and wars between sovereign states and insurgencies have become more the norm, the traditional rules of war seem to have become less relevant. This is presumably because rules that work to govern combat between traditional armies don’t effectively address asymmetric disputes where conventional militaries face off against “guerrillas”, “terrorists” or “freedom fighters” . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues, Legal Ethics

New Book: The Fundamentals of Statutory Interpretation

Below is an excerpt from the introduction of my new book that will be published by LexisNexis on November 30. More information about this book can be found here.

There are times when judges interpret statutes in ways that defy common sense. A notorious example was raised during the Senate confirmation hearings of eventual U.S. Supreme Court appointee Neil Gorsuch in which he was pressed by Democratic members to defend his dissent in Trans Am Trucking. In what is known as the “frozen trucker case”, he denied a trucker the benefit of protective legislation permitting an employee to . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues, Legal Information

Ontario’s Third Annual Access to Justice Week Begins on Monday, October 22

Improving access to justice is about pushing boundaries in our understanding of key issues at the forefront of the justice sector. It’s about engaging in discussions to move the dial forward, to break down barriers and develop meaningful solutions. This cannot happen in the justice sector alone. It takes stakeholders and experts from a diverse range of backgrounds, each with their own unique relationship to the law, to bring their perspectives and experience forward.

How does a senior investigative correspondent for the CBC understand mental health challenges in the justice system? How can we close the gap in representation in . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Speak to the Street

I was walking down the street with Nelson, one of the regional finalists of our 2018 Innovating Justice Award. He’s co-founder of Gavel (and, more visible: @citizen_gavel on Twitter). A social enterprise that calls itself “a civic tech organisation aimed at improving the pace of justice delivery through tech”. As part of the entrepreneurship training we give the finalists we ask the justice entrepreneurs to speak to the street. Find and talk to justice customers. Learn what they need. How they need it. When they need it. What they do when they need it. This was a busy street . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues, Practice of Law

Building a Business Case for Investing in Community-Based Justice

There are examples all over the world of community-based efforts that facilitate dispute resolution. Community-based justice initiatives are local mechanisms that act in official and quasi-official ways to provide information, advice and services to people within communities who experience justiciable problems. Their scope, who they serve, how they connect with people within communities, where they work and how they provide assistance may vary based on a number of factors, including their location, staffing and other resources. The similarity of community-oriented justice services lies in their efforts to provide assistance to resolve legal problems, often in the face of geographical and . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Architects of Justice: New Podcast Season Exploring Access to Justice in Ontario Launches This September

Last year, The Action Group on Access to Justice, also known as TAG, launched Ontario’s first access to justice podcast, Architects of Justice. Supported by the Law Society of Ontario and the Law Foundation of Ontario, this podcast brings together multiple perspectives and aims to spotlight different conversations about how we can make a more effective justice system.

Architects of Justice quickly earned audience interest and received positive feedback for its informative approach, thought-provoking themes and discussion about real opportunities and issues for justice in Ontario. Encouraged by this outcome, TAG produced a second season which will be . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

A New Call to Action to Improve Access to Justice

At a UN summit in 2015, world leaders identified 17 universal threats to the well-being, safety and advancement of people worldwide and to environmental sustainability. The result was the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Officially in effect since January 2016, the SDGs aim to galvanize national and international efforts around an agenda that promotes equity, empowerment and certain fundamental rights and improvements. The target date to reach these goals is 2030.[1]

Notable for the justice community is the addition of Goal 16, which has the object to: “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Legal and Community Partners Supporting Each Other to Help People With Legal Needs

When people are dealing with a legal problem they often don’t approach a lawyer as their first step. Frequently, people go to a source they’re in closer contact with: frontline staff working in local community-based organizations.

Frontline workers are people working in settlement agencies, housing or health support, libraries, community centres, and in many other community services. They listen attentively, show empathy, and try their best to refer clients in the right direction. Frontline workers get to know their clients’ circumstances and their larger set of problems. In some cases, they share languages and cultural backgrounds with their clients. Their . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Can There Be Reconciliation in an Adversarial Process? Access to Justice, Reconciliation and the Role of the Government Lawyer

The dispute resolution processes created pursuant to the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) have been described as both significant and historical. While together, these processes represent an important shift in how we think about resolving systemic and historic mass harms, these processes also challenge us to once again ask important questions — What constitutes access to justice in certain contexts? What is the role and responsibility of lawyers in furthering access to justice in those contexts? And is that role and responsibility different for government lawyers?

The example of the independent assessment process (”IAP”) at St. Anne’s Residential School . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Civic Engagement and Community Collaboration: A New Model on Access to Justice Improvements

Calls for access to justice improvements stress the importance of public-centered, multidisciplinary approaches. We know that in order to make the justice system more accessible, we need to diversify the problem solvers and our approaches. In response to this, The Action Group on Access to Justice (TAG) recently began working with Civic Tech Toronto in an effort to develop work that operates from the intersection of civic engagement, technology and law.

Civic Tech Toronto is a vibrant community-driven, volunteer organization that organizes weekly “meetups” where attendees learn about civic issues, share ideas and expertise, and develop solutions to civic challenges . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues