What do Ontarians think of their justice system? In August 2016, The Action Group on Access to Justice (TAG), in conjunction with Abacus Data, polled 1,500 Ontarians online to find out about their perceptions of Ontario’s justice system.
Some of the poll’s key findings include:
- 40 per cent of Ontarians do not believe that they have fair and equal access to the justice system
- Of those who have needed legal help, 46 per cent sought advice from lawyers and almost one third (32 per cent) turned to friends or family for advice
- Only 26 per cent sought information via the internet
The complete report, Public Perceptions on Access to Justice, is available here.
The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family has just released a report entitled: “An International Review of Early Neutral Evaluation Programs and their Use in Family Law Disputes in Alberta.”
Generally speaking, early neutral evaluation programs are court-based programs that require the parties to a dispute to attend a neutral third party evaluator early on the life of a lawsuit. At these hearings, the parties present their positions in the case and receive the feedback of the evaluator on the merits of those positions and the likely result of the lawsuit if it went to trial. The evaluator may assist the parties in settling all or some of the issues in dispute. However even when a full settlement is not reached, the hearing provides a useful reality check for litigants, helps to clarify the issues in dispute and prepares the parties for future judicial and extrajudicial dispute resolution processes.
Research conducted by The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family shows that these hearings result in high satisfaction rates for litigants, lawyers and evaluators. They promote settlement and the taking of positions supported by the law, and save litigants time, money and emotional stress as a result. They also provide savings to the justice system by reducing the number of contested applications and reducing the number and length of trials.
Based on these findings, the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family proposes that a working group be established to explore the implementation of a pilot early neutral evaluation project in Alberta. The Institute makes a variety of recommendations on the optimum characteristics of such a pilot project, drawn from their research, and on the issues the working group must address in its deliberations. In their view, the proposed pilot project aligns well with the objectives and guiding principles of the Reforming the Family Justice System Initiative
presently exploring means of improving the family justice system in Alberta, and may be ideally suited for adoption and evaluation as a prototype by the Initiative.
In addition, this report pairs nicely with the conclusions reached in the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family’s 2014 report, “Self-Represented Litigants in Family Law Disputes: Contrasting the Views of Alberta Family Law Lawyers and Judges of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench” by John-Paul Boyd and Lorne Bertrand. This earlier report concludes that self-represented litigants tend to take unreasonable positions in family law disputes which ultimately reduce the likelihood that these disputes will resolve without a trial. When cases involving self-represented litigants do reach trial, they tend to require more adjournments and take longer to resolve as a result of self-represented litigants’ unfamiliarity with the rules of court, the rules of evidence and the law that applies to their cases, and the results self-represented litigants achieve tend to be worse than the results they would have achieved had they had counsel. An early neutral evaluation program which includes an objective appraisal of the strengths and weaknesses of the parties’ positions would likely be of great assistance to these litigants.
In 2014, a joint Working Group of the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) and the Association of Legal Aid Plans of Canada (ALAP) collaborated to formulate and propose national legal aid benchmarks for Canada. After much consultation and discussion, the national benchmarks have now been completed. These benchmarks are guiding principles to achieve the shared goal of a national, integrated system of public legal assistance focused on improving access to justice and meeting the needs of disadvantaged people across Canada. These 6 national legal aid benchmarks, under headings of an overall vision, scope of services, priorities for service, spectrum of service, quality of service and an integrated service delivery sector, capture current evidence about legal aid and define pathways for the future, are intended to provide a foundation for national indicators with common data measurement.
To explain these concepts further, the CBA has authored a separate report further elaborating on the rationale and potential of national benchmarks for Canada.
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L’Association du barreau canadien (ABC) et l’Association des régimes d’aide juridique (ARAJ) ont collaboré pour formuler des normes nationales de services d’assistance juridique pour le Canada. Ces normes sont des principes directeurs visant l’atteinte de l’objectif commun d’un régime national et intégré de services d’assistance juridique publics axés sur l’amélioration de l’accès à la justice et sur la réponse aux besoins des personnes défavorisées au Canada. Les six normes – vision globale, portée des services, priorité des services, éventail des services, qualité des services et secteur de prestation de services intégrés – expriment des indices matériels actuels au sujet de l’assistance juridique et définissent des voies d’avenir. Elles procurent un fondement d’élaboration pour des indicateurs nationaux assortis de mesures communes de données.
Un rapport séparé de l’ABC, Un cadre national pour combler les besoins juridiques : Proposition de normes nationales de services d’assistance juridique publics, expose la raison d’être et le potentiel de ces normes nationales pour le Canada.
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Green College at The University of British Columbia (UBC) will be hosting an interdisciplinary speakers series on access to justice over the coming year.
The first talk took place on September 28 and featured recently retired Supreme Court of Canada Justice Thomas Cromwell, speaking on “Why Don’t we Have Appropriate Access to Justice?”. Justice Cromwell was joined by Ms. Jennifer Muller (a self-represented litigant from A2JBC) and Mr. Dan Baxter (Director of Policy Development, Government & Stakeholder Relations for the BC Chamber of Commerce).
The talk was livestreamed at Why Don’t we Have Appropriate Access to Justice?, and livetweeted using #justicetalks. Future talks will also be available as podcasts.
Here are some details about future talks:
October 19 – “Access to Justice and Sexual Violence”, Professor Janine Benedet (Allard Law) and Dr. Tracy Pickett (UBC Medicine/St Paul’s Hospital) (5:00-6:30 pm, Pacific Time)
November 23 – “Access to Justice and Indigenous Laws”, Professor Val Napoleon (UVic Law) and Professor Hadley Friedland (Alberta Law) (5:00-6:30 pm, Pacific Time)
For more information on upcoming 2016 talks, view the Cross-Sectoral Consultation, Access to Justice poster. The last three talks will take place in 2017, with topics and speakers TBA.
Those in Vancouver are invited to attend the speaker series. For those outside of Vancouver, please consider following the talks on Twitter, by livestream, or by podcast.