Access to Justice: Highs and Lows of Pro Bono Week

By Thomas Cromwell

The last week of October is Pro Bono Week, a global celebration of the pro bono ethic in our profession. Across Canada and around the world, thousands of legal professionals provide their services without cost for the public good. In Canada, where there is a wide and growing gap between the need for legal services and people’s ability to gain access to them, pro bono is a part of the effort necessary to fill that gap.

We entered Pro Bono Week on a wave of optimism and achievement generated by the Seventh National Pro Bono Conference held in Vancouver on Oct. 4 and 5. The packed agenda included presentations by the chief justice of Canada, the chief justice of British Columbia, the attorney general of British Columbia and the president of the American College of Trial Lawyers.

The message from the top was clear: pro bono work by lawyers is part of our professional responsibility and its importance to the welfare of our community cannot be overstated. The large attendance at the conference and the lively engagement evident in all of the sessions generated optimism and enthusiasm.

While we can and must do more, there is much to celebrate.

But not all of the news about pro bono is good. Pro Bono Ontario (PBO) has indicated that in December it will have to close its court-based programs — two in Toronto and one in Ottawa — for want of funding for the administrative support essential to running these programs. PBO says that each year, volunteer lawyers help more than 18,000 clients in the civil, non-family justice system and, at the same time, reduce delays in the courts’ handling of these matters. An evaluation of the programs concluded that they provided a 10:1 return on investment. In other words, the public purse saved $10 for every dollar in funding. But that is apparently not enough to persuade potential funders to inject the modest resources needed to assure that these programs continue.

David W. Scott, one of the “parents” of these programs, has for many years spent a morning each month at the Law Help Centre at the Ottawa courthouse. He told me that during his October shift, he saw five people:

  • a single mother who is being pursued by a government department for support payments;
  • a friend of an Arabic woman who speaks no English who is defending herself from a landlord’s claim for rent;
  • a young man on parole who was the victim of a fraudulent claim when he was incarcerated;
  • a young mother who was being sued for return of employment insurance; and
  • a woman being sued for alleged non-payment of taxes.

Through the court-based program, David was able to provide modest but critical help. The closure of the Law Help Centre will mean that people like those who David saw — people in their thousands — will be left to their own devices. The need for these services is obvious and compelling.

The willingness of legal professionals to provide these pro bono services has been demonstrated. The business case for doing so seems unanswerable. But even this is not enough to save these programs.

Scott says that he is heartbroken. The rest of us should be ashamed. Who can seriously contend that we cannot find the modest resources needed to maintain these valuable services? If we wanted to, we would.

 

This article originally appeared on The Lawyer’s Daily on November 5, 2018. It is the twelfth 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.

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/.

Canadian Forum on Civil Justice Publishes New Cost of Justice Reports

The Canadian Forum on Civil Justice (CFCJ) has published three new reports based on data from their national Everyday Legal Problems and the Cost of Justice in Canada study.

EVERYDAY LEGAL PROBLEMS AND THE COST OF JUSTICE IN CANADA – SURVEY DATA

The full data set from the CFCJ’s Everyday Legal Problems and Cost of Justice of Justice in Canada survey is now available! As part of the CFCJ’s national 7-year study on the Cost of Justice, over 3,000 adults in Canada were asked about their experiences with civil and family justice problems, the costs (monetary and non-monetary) of experiencing one or more civil or family justice problems and their views on the justice system.

The data from this national Cost of Justice survey has been published and is available on the CFCJ website here: http://cfcj-fcjc.org/wp-content/uploads/Everyday-Legal-Problems-and-the-Cost-of-Justice-in-Canada-Cost-of-Justice-Survey-Data.pdf.


EVERYDAY LEGAL PROBLEMS AND THE COST OF JUSTICE IN CANADA – INCOME

Is there a connection between annual household income and experiences of civil or family justice problems in Canada? A new Cost of Justice report is now available that includes data from the CFCJ’s national Cost of Justice survey organized into three annual income groups: Less than $60,000, $60,000 – $125,000, and More than $125,000.

View the Everyday Legal Problems and the Cost of Justice in Canada – Income report on the CFCJ website here: http://cfcj-fcjc.org/wp-content/uploads/INCOME-Everyday-Legal-Problems-and-the-Cost-of-Justice-in-Canada.pdf.


EVERYDAY LEGAL PROBLEMS AND THE COST OF JUSTICE IN CANADA – SPENDING ON EVERYDAY LEGAL PROBLEMS

Almost 50% of people who experience an everyday legal problem spend some money trying to resolve their problem. Based on findings from the CFCJ’s national Cost of Justice study, average spending on legal problems is approximately $6,100. That is almost as much as Canadian households spend on food in a year. The newly published Everyday Legal Problems and the Cost of Justice in Canada – Spending on Everyday Legal Problems report offers additional insights on monetary spending on civil and family justice problems based on demographic characteristics recorded in the CFCJ’s Cost of Justice survey, as well as pathways used to try to resolve legal problems.

This new Cost of Justice report is available on the CFCJ website here: www.cfcj-fcjc.org/wp-content/uploads/SPENDING-Everyday-Legal-Problems-and-the-Cost-of-Justice-in-Canada.pdf.

International research project seeks to scale access to community-based justice

The Canadian Forum on Civil Justice (CFCJ), located at Osgoode Hall Law School, is joining forces with researchers in Kenya, Sierra Leone and South Africa to build a business case for scaling community-based justice services.

Funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the Community-Based Justice Research (CBJR) project is a newly-launched, collaborative research initiative that aims to advance collective understanding of the costs, opportunities, and challenges of community-based justice programs. In doing so, this project will play a significant role in supporting the improvement of access to justice at the community level.

This project speaks directly to Goal 16.3 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which requires countries to ensure equal access to justice for all of their citizens. Community-oriented justice services fill gaps in the delivery of legal services in many otherwise underserved areas; they facilitate early legal problem resolution, and they empower individuals to engage in society to protect their legal rights. By helping to provide the evidence needed to understand, assess and scale these types of access to justice programs, this project will help countries to better develop and deliver justice to their communities.

The Community-Based Justice Research project is planned in close collaboration with the IDRC, the Katiba Institute in Kenya, the Center for Alternative Policy Research and Innovation (CAPRI) in Sierra Leone and the Centre for Community Justice and Development (CCJD) in South Africa with support from Open Society Foundations (OSF), and will incorporate research methodologies and learnings from the CFCJ’s own 7-year (2011-2018) national, people-centered research project on “The Cost of Justice”.

The press release for the Community-Based Justice Research project is available on the CFCJ website here: http://cfcj-fcjc.org/wp-content/uploads/Press-Release-CFCJ-CBJR-International-Research-Initiative-Seeks-to-Scale-Access-to-Community-Justice.pdf.

To learn more, please also visit the Community-Based Justice Research project page here: http://cfcj-fcjc.org/our-projects/community-based-justice-research-cbjr/.

Recently Published Research by The Law Foundation of Ontario Examines the Role of Intermediaries in Connecting Ontarians to Legal Information and Legal Help

The Law Foundation of Ontario has published new research on the role of community workers who help people with legal problems.  In many cases frontline workers, including settlement workers, parks and recreation staff, counsellors, nurses and librarians, among others, are the first (and only) resource that people go to for help with justiciable problems.  These intermediaries play an important role in identifying legal problems and connecting people with information and resources that can be helpful.

The final report from this research – Trusted Help: the role of community workers as trusted intermediaries who help people with legal problems – offers insight into the ways that trusted intermediaries provide help, including:

  •    Referring people to legal service providers
  •     Providing information about legal rights and procedures
  •     Identifying legal problems
  •     Helping people to take steps to resolve a legal problem
  •     Providing assistance to complete legal forms and documentation
  •     Accompanying people to tribunal or court hearings
  •     Accompanying people to meetings with legal service providers

Trusted Help: the role of community workers as trusted intermediaries who help people with legal problems was prepared by Karen Cohl, Julie Lassonde, Julie Mathews, Carol Lee Smith, and George Thomson for the Law Foundation of Ontario. An overview of this research is available in this Law Foundation of Ontario announcement: http://www.lawfoundation.on.ca/news/legal-help-on-the-frontlines/.

Learn more about the ways that trusted intermediaries help people access legal help and services as well as how to work with, support, and collaborate with trusted intermediaries from parts one and two of this Law Foundation of Ontario report available here: http://www.lawfoundation.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/LFO_TrustedHelpReport_Part1_EN.pdf and here: http://www.lawfoundation.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/LFO_TrustedHelpReport_Part2_EN.pdf.

Ces rapports sont disponibles en français ici : http://www.lawfoundation.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/LFO_FR_TrustedHelpReport_Part1.pdf et ici: http://www.lawfoundation.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/LFO_FR_TrustedHelpReport_Part2.pdf.

 

Government of Canada Introduces New Family Law Legislation

The Government of Canada has introduced new legislation aimed at modernizing and strengthening family justice—making it the first substantial update of Canada’s federal family laws in 20 years.

On May 22nd, the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, introduced legislation that would amend three federal family laws: the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act (FOAEAA) and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act (GAPDA). The legislation has four key objectives: to promote the best interests children, address family violence, curb child poverty and make Canada’s family justice system more accessible and efficient.

Additional information on these new measures can be accessed here: https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/government-of-canada-announces-new-measures-to-strengthen-and-modernize-family-justice-683335701.html.

New Report on the Costs, Benefits and Limitations of Different Dispute Resolution Processes in Family Law

The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF), in partnership with the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice (CFCJ) have published an exciting new report that examines the use of collaborative settlement processes, mediation, arbitration and litigation to resolve family law disputes.

The study provides valuable insights into the costs of the different dispute resolution processes, how long cases take to resolve, and lawyers’ perceptions of their efficacy and suitability for resolving different types of family law problems.

Read “An Evaluation of the Cost of Family Law Disputes: Measuring the Cost Implication of Various Dispute Resolution Methods” on the CFCJ website here and on the CRILF website here.

Two New Publications from the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family

The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF) recently published two new papers:

The Development of Parenting Coordination and an Examination of Policies and Practices in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta was prepared by Dr. Lorne Bertrand and John-Paul Boyd and reviews the development of parenting coordination in the United States and its adoption in Canada. This paper also explores the findings of the research available to date on parenting coordination, its efficacy in resolving parenting disputes, its efficacy in steering such disputes out of court and its impact on parental conflict. The Development of Parenting Coordination and an Examination of Policies and Practices in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta discusses the practice of parenting coordination in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario, compares processes and training standards in those provinces, and makes recommendations for the practice of parenting coordination in Alberta, and in Canada generally.

Children’s Participation in Justice Processes: Finding the Best Ways Forward, Results from the Survey of Symposium Participants was prepared by Joanne Paetsch, Dr. Lorne Bertrand and John-Paul Boyd and is the first written output from the “Children’s Participation in Justice Processes: Finding the Best Ways Forward” two-day symposium presented by the CRILF and the Alberta Office of the Child and Youth Advocate. The symposium offered a unique opportunity to survey an informed and involved pool of participants regarding their perceptions and experiences with children’s participation in justice processes. This report presents the final results of this survey of symposium participants, and includes recommendations for moving forward.

Both publications are available on the CRILF website here:  http://www.crilf.ca/publications.htm

 

The details in this post were taken from information circulated by the CRILF.

Toolkit on Co-Parenting after Divorce or Separation now Available from CBA

The Canadian Bar Association (CBA) Family Law Section in conjunction with the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF) have announced that the Successfully Parenting Apart: A Toolkit is now available.

About the new Successfully Parenting Apart toolkit, the CBA explains that it:

  • organizes and consolidates online and print resources offering guidance, information, referrals and resources for resolving parenting challenges post-separation in ways most effective for children.
  • is intended to increase family lawyers’ awareness of the best available information to better assist parents in transforming their relationship from being a couple to being successful co-parents.

To learn more about the toolkit or to download a copy of the Successfully Parenting Apart toolkit, visit the CBA website here.

“Consumers 150: Consumer Engagement and Outreach” Workshop to take place on 18 September

Studies show that a significant percentage of Canadian civil legal problems are consumer problems. “Mapping the Front End: Legal Information Seeking Practices” is a two-year project funded by the Law Foundation of Ontario Responsive Grants Program that studies consumers’ everyday information seeking practices.  In so doing the project aims to connect consumers seeking and using information with available and pertinent resourses by increasing consumer information literacy, awareness and empowerment. It is the first comprehensive study of its kind in Canada. As part of this project (and #Consumers150), there will be a “Consumer Engagement and Outreach” workshop held at the University of Ottawa on 18 September 2017. Information about this workshop can be found here.