Access to Justice Blog
Analysis and opinions from the leading voices in access to justice research.
Amidst a generally perceived crisis in access to justice, increasing emphasis is being placed on the potential of paralegals to offer affordable, efficient and effective legal assistance to people with unmet legal needs. In other words, paralegals may provide a means for re-configuring the costs of justice and thereby improving access to justice. This case study aims to identify the role of paralegals in the Ontario residential tenancy dispute resolution system and to analyze their impact on the costs of justice and access to justice, especially for low-income tenants. The impetus for this study is a concern, anecdotally expressed by participants in the “Housing Justice Program”, that paralegals are playing an important role in improving access to justice, but more for landlords than for tenants. This concern suggests that paralegals can play a role in improving the general cost and accessibility of justice, but that those improvements may not be sufficient to produce access to justice for low-income tenants.
This study has two parts, one quantitative and the other qualitative. The... Read More
Each year, Legal Aid Alberta hosts the Access to Justice Awards Gala to recognize individuals nominated by their peers for their significant contribution to the community, as well as reflect on the important role each of us plays within the realm of access to justice.
“Remember, the concept of access to quality justice is not simply a function of finances and judicial delays. Rather, it is about public confidence. Above all, the survival of our democracy depends upon maintaining the credibility of the judiciary and the legal profession in the minds of litigants and the public at large. Every citizen must feel that they are able to enforce their rights under fair and reasonable conditions.”
- The Honourable Richard Wagner, Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Legal Aid Alberta Access to Justice Awards Gala, 2013.
How do you get credible and testable evidence without making the justice system even more unaffordable than it already is? This question was the sum of the discussion at the Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice’s (CIAJ) first-ever student workshop held on October 10, 2013. The workshop titled, The Cost of Evidence, was facilitated by Osgoode Hall Law School professors Benjamin Berger and Trevor Farrow, and was supported by the CIAJ, Osgoode Hall Law School, and the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice.
The workshop brought together law students from schools across Canada to discuss the intersection of the rules of evidence, legal costs, and access to justice. The workshop, which was part of the larger annual CIAJ conference, allowed students to delve into discussions that related the conference theme How Do We Know What We Think We Know: Facts in... Read More
I remember being told at law school (not that long ago) that lawyers were more than “mere” legal plumbers. The implication was that law was a profession (i.e. good, reputable), not a vocation (i.e. bad, dirty). And indeed, as Professor Wesley Pue has noted, there is a long history within the legal profession of praising high-minded professionalism while denigrating the crass commercialism of business.
I began to question how lawyers think about the business side of what they do while doing research for my LLM. My research included a case study of Pivot Legal LLP, a full-service law firm in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, which had the dual goals of providing income for the well-known legal advocacy Pivot Legal Society and delivering affordable legal services within the community. During my interviews, I heard many comments to the effect of “law is a business”. The implication was clear: without a viable business model, efforts to provide accessible legal services will be short-lived.
The choice between profession and business is a false dichotomy. Lawyers who are... Read More
"I have no choice – I am unrepresented not self represented. Its not that I think I can do this better than a lawyer, I have no choice. I don't have $350 an hour to pay a lawyer.”
“I was scared out of my mind. But I had a hard choice – either learning to do this for myself, or letting my daughter go, forever.”
The two quotes above are typical examples of what I heard from respondents in my study on self-represented litigants (SRL’s) in family and civil court. They dispel the myth that SRL’s have illusions of grandeur that they can do as good a job as a lawyer. In fact, the vast majority are desperate people with no more funds to pay for counsel (53% began with a lawyer but ran out of money to pay them).
The rise in the number of people representing themselves and the enormous frustration expressed by virtually all of them requires our immediate attention. The erosion of faith in the justice system is plain in the research data (which you can read about in the study’s Final Report).
The Final Recommendations of the study pull together the research data and the... Read More