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The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and Access to Justice

Ab Currie, PhD

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has begun examining the potential of legal aid to help reduce poverty and, more broadly, its impact on economic development. The OECD recently convened two expert roundtables on equal access to justice— the first meeting focused on research and literature relating to various aspects of the cost of justice and the costs of inaccessibility to legal aid and services. CFCJ Chair, Dr. Trevor Farrow gave an access to justice presentation at the first roundtable on October 7, 2015; the details of Dr. Farrow’s presentation were included in the CFCJ’s October Newsletter The second meeting, held on December 1, 2015, focused on the reach of legal aid in different countries, its impact and  other factors affecting  the role of access to justice in poverty reduction.  Dr. Ab Currie, Senior Research Fellow at the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice, attended the expert roundtable held in December. The December meeting was also attended by Canadian Forum on Civil Justice Board member, Dr. Melina Buckley, who was representing the Canadian Bar Association. Below, see some thoughts from our Senior Research Fellow, Ab Currie, on the OECD meetings and their approach to access to justice.

This new level of discourse on access to justice by the OECD, and a potential move towards increased support for programs that improve access to justice is very encouraging to the global A2J community There is a large body of empirical evidence that demonstrates that disadvantaged and poor members of society benefit from legal assistance., Nonetheless, as Alan Houseman and Eliza Minoff point out (The Anti-Poverty Effects of Legal Aid, Public Welfare Foundation, 2014), research must go beyond studying case outcomes in order to understand the impact of legal services on the poor. Many current discussions about access to justice propose a shift in our collective thinking about how people access legal information and the way in which legal services are delivered so that they can offer more and wider-reaching benefits for disadvantaged people. This means that building a business case for legal aid is not a straightforward process. Additional research will be needed to determine the impacts and reach of new forms of legal aid, in particular as affect the poor and broader economic growth. . Proponents of access to justice will have to build the political case as well as the business case. With the OECD’s increased involvement in the global discourse on access to justice, it is anticipated that they will be able to play a role in the development of the innovations in legal aid that will be required.

The OECD has embraced a people-centred approach and narrative in addressing access to justice problems and services. They are primarily focused on the point of view of people experiencing problems and interacting with justice systems rather than the point of view of the justice system itself. This approach to understanding legal need will provide organizations such as the OECD, that are taking a fresh look at the problem, with a framework that underscores the essential  role of innovation for expanding access to justice services.