National Action Committee Publishes New Report on Canada’s Progress on Justice Development Goals

A recently released report by the national Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters (Action Committee) offers insights into new developments, research, initiatives and other efforts that are contributing to improvements in access to justice in Canada. This report represents the most recent review by the Action Committee of Canada’s progress on nine goals that are deemed essential for better access to justice. The report tracks achievements during 2018 using the Justice Development Goals as a common framework for coordinating efforts, sharing innovations, and measuring progress on access to justice.

Canada’s nine Justice Development Goals are to:

  • Address Everyday Legal Problems
  • Meet Legal Needs
  • Make Courts Work Better
  • Improve Family Justice
  • Work Together
  • Build Capacity
  • Innovate
  • Analyze and Learn
  • Improve Funding Strategies

The new Action Committee report, “Working Toward Accessible Justice: Tracking Progress on the JDGs in 2018” is available online in English here: http://www.justicedevelopmentgoals.ca/sites/default/files/2018jdgsworkingtorwardsa2jreport.pdf.

Vous pouvez télécharger << Travaillent pour une justice accessible : Suivi des progrès réalisés sur les objectifs de développement en matière de justice au Canada en 2018 >> ici : http://www.justicedevelopmentgoals.ca/sites/default/files/2018ojdstravaillentpoura2jrapport.pdf.

Learn more about the Justice Development Goals here: http://www.justicedevelopmentgoals.ca/goals.

Pour plus d’informations sur les objectifs de développement en matière de justice, cliquez ici : http://www.justicedevelopmentgoals.ca/fr.

New Report Highlights Role of Innovation in Bridging Justice Gap

The international Task Force on Justice is an initiative that launched in 2018 to help tackle the global access to justice crisis – a problem that currently sees more than four billion people around the world living outside the protection of the law. This week, the Task Force’s Innovation Working Group published “Innovating Justice: Needed & Possible”, a report that explores ways that innovation can help to address unmet legal needs, the investment possibilities that justice innovation provides, and parameters for increasing and improving justice innovation in support of UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16.3 – equal access to justice for all.  The report offers examples of new technologies as well as technological upgrades that can help to advance access to justice and also calls for financing justice innovation.

“Innovating Justice: Needed & Possible”, the report of the Innovation Working Group of the Task Force on Justice is available online here: https://www.hiil.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Report-of-the-Innovation-Working-Group-of-the-Task-Force-on-Justice.pdf.

American Academy of Arts and Sciences Publishes Issue on Access to Justice Crisis

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ quarterly journal, Dædalus, recently dedicated an entire issue to America’s access to justice crisis. The issue, which is available online for free, was edited by Lincoln Caplan, Lance Malcolm Liebman, and Rebecca L. Sandefur. This first-of-its-kind open access issue on access to justice by the well-known U.S. journal includes twenty-four essays by researchers, professors, access to justice advocates and others. The essays examine a range of civil legal services issues being faced by low-income Americans, various barriers to creating a responsive justice system, and opportunities for improving access to justice through technology, innovation and new approaches. The Dædalus issue on access to justice is available here: https://www.amacad.org/daedalus/access-to-justice.

New Book Highlights Work of Community Paralegals in Facilitating Access to Justice

Namati, an international organization that works to help people exercise their legal rights, has published a book that examines the work that community paralegals do to empower people all over the world to engage in societies, access justice and resolve disputes. This recently published resource is entitled “Community Paralegals and The Pursuit of Justice” and was edited by Vivek Maru (Namati) and Varun Gauri (The World Bank). It is the result of 8 years of research and writing by more than a dozen authors across 6 countries. Community Paralegals and The Pursuit of Justice can be accessed online for free here: https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/community-paralegals-and-the-pursuit-of-justice/219EB6294721B11BB25B1C8A3A2ACE29.

Access to Justice Week Begins Soon in Saskatchewan and Ontario

Saskatchewan’s second annual Access to Justice Week will run from October 20 – 26, 2018. The week will include discussions and activities that will engage different actors in the access to justice conversation as well as highlight projects and programs that aim to improve access to justice for all Saskatchewan residents. The week-long events will build on themes from the University of Saskatchewan College of Law’s 2017 Dean’s Forum on Access to Justice and Dispute Resolution and will include:

  • Legal information, Legal Advice, and Access to Justice; and
  • Expanding Engagement: Creating Connections

Learn more about Access to Justice Week in Saskatchewan here: https://law.usask.ca/createjustice/saskatchewan-access-to-justice-week.php. For a list of events scheduled for the 2018 Saskatchewan Access to Justice Week, visit: https://law.usask.ca/createjustice/A2J2018-AtAGlance.pdf.


Monday, October 22, 2018 marks the start of the third annual Access to Justice Week in Ontario, hosted by The Action Group on Access to Justice (TAG). The week will include a range of sessions including:

  • Mental Health – Access and Ethics
  • Indigenous Language Speakers and the Canadian Justice System
  • Addressing the Access to Legal Representation Gap in Family Law; and
  • Justice, Innovation and Community

Visit the TAG Access to Justice Week webpage for information on the sessions and to register to attend events by webcast or in person: https://theactiongroup.ca/access-to-justice-week/.

BC to Hold its First Access to Justice Week

British Columbia will be holding its inaugural Access to Justice Week from September 29 to October 5, 2018. The week’s events have been organized and are being led by the province’s three law schools – Allard Law School at the University of British Columbia, Thompson Rivers University Faculty of Law, and the University of Victoria Faculty of Law.  BC’s A2J Week will include:

  • Tech events
    This will include a weekend hackathon, as well as a panel on artificial initelligence (AI) innovation and the justice sector.
  • Law school events
    Events to be held at BC’s three law schools include a presentation on “What would A2J look like for victims of sexual violence?” and a panel on “Lawyering with Heart: Violence informed and solution-focused lawyering for Indigenous youth and families”. The 7th Annual National Pro Bono Conference in Vancouver on October 4 – 5, which will coincide with BC’s A2J Week, will bring together lawyers, paralegals, law students, judges and other stakeholders to discuss ideas and best practices for increasing access to justice.
  • Victoria events
    Students at the University of Victoria Faculty of Law will be holding an Access to Justice Fair to share information on opportunities to increase A2J. Later in the week, there will also be a presentation by Dr. Julie Macfarlane on the challenges that self-represented litigants face.
  • Kamloops events
    Thompson Rivers University (TRU) law school students and staff from the TRU Community Legal Clinic will be offering information and intake referrals at the Farmers’ Market on September 29. The Community Legal Clinic will also be offering information (and free coffee)  later in the week and Dr. Macfarlane will speak to law students and to members of the legal community on October 3. There will also be a talk on legal tech and access to justice as well as activities to teach attendees about the challenges of self-representation.

For more information on BC’s inaugural Access to Justice Week, visit: www.provincialcourt.bc.ca/enews/enews-18-09-2018.

New Report Examines Alberta’s Mandatory Early Intervention Case Conferencing Pilot Project

The early intervention case conferences (EICCs) is a pilot project that was implemented by Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench in September, 2017 in an effort to address the increasing delays until family law cases can be tried, increasing numbers of litigants without counsel, and the short complement of the bench relative to the province’s population.

The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF) recently conducted an evaluation of the EICC in order to determine if the Early Intervention Case Conference project is meeting its stated goals. The evaluation provides insights into what is working and what could be improved in the pilot project, and explores whether the project should be implemented as a permanent part of the family law litigation process in the Court of Queen’s Bench.

An Evaluation of Alberta’s Mandatary Early Intervention Case Conference Pilot Project final report is available online here: http://www.crilf.ca/Documents/EICC_Evaluation_-_August_2018.pdf.

Access to Justice: Diana Lowe on support for families as they restructure

by Thomas Cromwell

Alberta has been engaged for several years in an ambitious family law reform effort. I spoke to Diana Lowe, co-lead of the Reforming the Family Justice System (RFJS) initiative, about what they have been doing and what’s ahead. Here is the second part of my interview with her.

TC: What main innovations have been introduced and how are they working?

DL: The most significant change that has taken place, is a shift in the mental model or culture in the family justice system, away from improving access to lawyers, law and adversarial processes, and instead to a focus on family well-being through services that support families as they experience the pressures of restructuring. We are encouraging awareness of this shift by all participants in the family justice system, including families, and encouraging alignment with the Theory of Change in policy and programs.

We are beginning to see shifts in systems, policy and practices including the Court of Queen’s Bench that has adopted the Theory of Change in its Strategic Plan and is beginning to take action to put this into effect. Resolution Services in the Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General is developing a pilot to refocus the work of frontline staff as “justice system navigators.” These staff will be trained in brain science, and will develop maps of community services so they can assist families to obtain the supports they need for their social, relationship, parenting and financial needs.

This pilot is a collaboration with the County of Strathcona Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) and if successful, will be expanded to include FCSS organizations throughout the province.

Alberta has submitted a joint proposal (by the Alberta Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General, the Court of Queen’s Bench and the provincial court) to the federal minister of Justice, for the creation of an Alberta Unified Family Court. The proposal embedded the RFJS Theory of Change, supporting the use of services to assist Alberta families to access supports they need to help develop resilience, and to resolve disputes away from the adversarial processes of courts as much as possible.

TC: How is the experience of a family going through separation and divorce different from what it might have been five years ago?

DL: While the RFJS is still underway, there are many things that parents can do already to help them and their children thrive as they restructure. As co-convenor Justice Andrea Moen noted at our recent Collaborator Workshop, collaborative family professionals were out front in understanding that co-operation and collaboration between parents is essential for the health of the family and of the children. They led the way by creating teams of professionals to assist families.

The RFJS is aligned with the collaborative approach both to help families avoid adversarial court processes and to work out the restructuring of their family. Their approach is a model which ensures that families receive the kinds of relationship, parenting and financial supports that they need, and families can be guided by the model that collaborative professionals have created for supporting healthy families.

There are many different supports that are available to assist families, including collaborative family practitioners, co-parenting experts, wellness coaches, grief counsellors, financial advisers, step-parent supports, and of course mediators and lawyers. Examples of these supports are published regularly in Divorce Magazine. Families can use technology tools that encourage parents to work together to achieve better outcomes, including coParenter and Undo.

Supports for families are also available in most communities in the province through Family and Community Support Services partnerships between the provincial government and municipal governments; at Parent Link Centres; and through Triple-P Parenting Resources.

The RFJS is supporting the Ministry pilot in the County of Strathcona that will see families seek these supports, as part of our goal for better outcomes. As families are encouraged to seek out these supports early on in their decision to restructure, they are better able to deal with the emotional, parenting, relationship and financial challenges that commonly occur upon separation and divorce, and to avoid tangling these issues into legal processes.

TC: What’s next?

DL: Our Outcomes Framework identifies our key priorities for the coming year as:

  • Working with the legal profession to encourage brain science education by family lawyers, and identifying implications for shifts in ethical responsibilities and practices of family lawyers.
  • Working with the courts to ensure they are familiar with the Theory of Change, and are encouraged to align court processes with it.
  • Continued work with the Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General on the pilot with FCSS, and other family justice initiatives.
  • Helping to enhance the public understanding that “parents fighting about their children causes harm,” and to provide information about supports to improve resilience and well-being of family members.
  • Working with frontline service providers and supports for families, to empower them to provide the social, relationship, parenting and financial supports that families need when they’re restructuring.
  • Working with other ministries (Health, Education, Community and Social Services, Children’s Services) to share the Theory of Change and seek alignment with it, and the integration of services for families, in order to help families thrive.

This is the second of a two-part series. Read part one here.

This article originally appeared on The Lawyer’s Daily on July 30, 2018. It is the tenth article in The Honourable Thomas Cromwell’s exclusive Lawyer’s Daily column dedicated to access to civil and family justice.

The Honourable Thomas Cromwell served 19 years as an appellate judge and chairs the Chief Justice’s Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. He retired from the Supreme Court of Canada in September of 2016 and is now senior counsel to the national litigation practice at Borden Ladner Gervais.

Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family Publishes Report on Canadian Legal Incubator Initiative

A recently published report by the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF) examines the Aspire Legal Access Initiative (ALAI), a program based in Alberta that provides law school graduates with articles in family law and improves access to family law services for Calgarians. ALAI is modelled on legal incubator programs that have increased in popularity in the United States as a means to offer legal services to people who would not otherwise be able to access help. Similarly, through the ALAI program, Calgarians who earn too much to be eligible for legal aid but too little to afford private counsel receive legal assistance from law students and a senior lawyer. ALAI is the first legal incubator project in Canada and has been adapted to meet Canada’s article requirements.

The Evaluation of the Aspire Legal Access Initiative report outlines the satisfaction and opinions of clients, articled students and stakeholders from the legal community who accessed the program and also offers recommendations aimed at ensuring the program continues to operate as intended. An Evaluation of the Aspire Legal Access Initiative is available online here: http://www.crilf.ca/Documents/Aspire_Evaluation_-_July_2018.pdf.

Access to Justice: Diana Lowe on the theory of change

by Thomas Cromwell

Alberta has been engaged for several years in an ambitious family law reform effort. I spoke to Diana Lowe, co-lead of the Reforming the Family Justice System initiative, about what they have been doing and what’s ahead. Here is what she told me.

TC: What was the impetus for Alberta’s family law project and what are its objectives?

DL: The Reforming the Family Justice System (RFJS) initiative was inspired by two very different but important pieces of work. The first is new scientific knowledge about brain science and brain development, which includes understanding the impact of toxic stress and how it is harmful to children’s brains. This is the kind of stress that occurs when families have unresolved disputes and children are exposed to fighting between parents. Brain science tells us that fighting between parents actually harms the development of children’s brains. The effects are physical as well as mental, impact the child throughout their life, and in fact can be intergenerational.

The second is the recommendations in the reports of the national Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters (Action Committee). The Action Committee is made up of leaders from across Canada, and published five reports in 2013, which are available online here.

The name we gave to this initiative is “Reforming the Family Justice System,” but we increasingly refer to it as “reimagining” the family justice system. In short, the RFJS is aimed at wholesale systems change. The change we’re seeking in the RFJS is not the traditional focus of access to justice initiatives, which aim to improve and increase access to legal processes and services. Rather, we seek well-rounded solutions that support families as they restructure, and most importantly, ensuring that children are safe and able to thrive even as their families are changing.

TC: Has the initiative identified the main problems that need to be solved?

DL: We’ve developed a Theory of Change that guides us in our work. It recognizes that “family justice issues are primarily social, relationship and financial, that contain a legal element.” By this, we understand that we need to untangle social, relationship and financial issues from legal issues, and create paths to empower families to obtain the social, relationship and financial supports that they need to address these problems, outside of adversarial legal processes and away from the courts. We are recognizing that legal — adversarial — responses to what are primarily social, relationship and financial problems, cause harm to families.

TC: Can you explain what you mean by “Theory of Change”?

DL: The concept of a Theory of Change is commonly used in systems change processes (it is described in detail here). Our work on the RFJS Theory of Change began in December 2014, and was based on the recognition that “… relationship breakdown is not a legal event that has some potential social consequences; it is a social phenomenon that has some legal consequences.” (Action Committee, Family Justice Working Group Report, Beyond Wise Words at p.14).

Facilitators led a number of different groups of Convenors and Collaborators through discussions which encouraged the group to really drill down to the systemic causes for the problems in the family justice system. Participants discussed why these causes exist, including what the worldview is that creates and fosters them, and what society’s basic myths and metaphors are about family justice, as these are part of our current mental model, or culture, which is a barrier to change. The group then focused on the new mental model that we want to create, and on high-level strategies to move forward. What made sense to the group was that our Theory of Change would follow a progression from problems, through strategies to outcomes, filtered through the lens that recognizes “Family justice issues are primarily social, relationship and financial, that contain a legal element.”

The Theory of Change for the RFJS is a living document that helps us maintain our focus on the “big picture” and on what is required to support the changes we are seeking. It helps us to be more explicit about the change that underpins the RFJS, to see where our various initiatives and areas of work fit into this big picture, and where we can integrate and align efforts to achieve the desired impact. It also helps us identify indicators for evaluation.

This is the first of a two-part series.

 

This article originally appeared on The Lawyer’s Daily on July 23, 2018. It is the ninth article in The Honourable Thomas Cromwell’s exclusive Lawyer’s Daily column dedicated to access to civil and family justice.
The Honourable Thomas Cromwell served 19 years as an appellate judge and chairs the Chief Justice’s Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. He retired from the Supreme Court of Canada in September of 2016 and is now senior counsel to the national litigation practice at Borden Ladner Gervais.