Access to Justice: Next Year a Big One for the Action Committee / Accès à la justice : prochaine année occupée pour le Comité d’action

Thomas Cromwell and Beverly McLachlin

La version française suit.

There are big transitions occurring at the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. Former Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin has this month assumed the chair of the committee which she had convened a decade ago.

The Chief Justice of Canada, Richard Wagner, has agreed to take on the role of honorary chair, carrying on the practice of his predecessor. Justice Elizabeth Corte and Mark Benton are in place as vice-chairs. With the support of the Ontario and British Columbia Law Foundations, the action committee is preparing a transition plan, a strategic plan and a governance plan, all to be presented and discussed at the committee’s annual summit in the early spring of next year. And the work of promoting and reporting on Canada’s Justice Development Goals is in full swing.

I had the opportunity recently to speak with the former chief justice McLachlin about her hopes and plans for the committee under her leadership. Here is what she had to say.

Thomas Cromwell (TC): What were your expectations when you convened the action committee in the fall of 2008 and how does the committee’s work since then match those expectations?

Beverly McLachlin (BM): My expectations were to start a conversation about access to justice that involved key players from all parts of the country and from all sectors — the legal profession, governments, courts, NGOs and academe — with a view to examining the roadblocks and coming up with insights on how to remove these barriers and improve people’s access to justice.

The committee’s accomplishments far surpassed my expectations. The broad cross-country conversation I hoped for has been engaged, and many new ideas on how to improve access to justice have emerged.

The level of engagement has far surpassed my expectations. As a result, new innovative ideas have actually been implemented — ideas that are improving Canadian’s access to justice “on the ground.” When we launched the committee in 2008, I had no idea that it would have produced such a rich dialogue, much less concrete results.

TC: What do you think are the most urgently needed changes to improve access to justice?

BM: I believe the most urgent change we need is a change in public and government attitudes. Instead of viewing justice as a frill or something lawyers and governments are grudgingly obliged to support, we should recognize (1) that access to justice in all its forms is a marker of a just society and (2) that supporting access to justice — providing people with legal help, counselling and more — will pay off in lower prison costs, lower court costs and enhancing the productivity of citizens. It is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.

TC: Where do you hope to see the action committee go and what do you hope that it will accomplish under your leadership?

BM: The passionate women and men who have worked on the committee for the past decade have accomplished much and laid an excellent foundation for addressing the complex challenges that remain in achieving access to justice for everyone. I hope we will be able to establish a permanent umbrella organization to support innovative thinking, ensure that the accomplishments to date are not eroded and move on with new projects that will continue to enhance access to justice.

TC: As a final note, I am delighted that Beverley McLachlin has also agreed to take over this space. Beginning in January, she will be a regular contributor on access to justice. Next year is shaping up to be an exciting new phase of the ongoing efforts to improve access to justice in Canada.

The Honourable Thomas Cromwell served 19 years as an appellate judge and until recently chaired 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.

The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin served as chief justice of Canada from 2000 to mid-December 2017. She now works as an arbitrator and mediator in Canada and internationally and also sits as a justice of Singapore’s International Commercial Court and the Hong Kong Final Court of Appeal. She chairs the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters.

This article originally appeared on The Lawyer’s Daily on December 19, 2018.


De grands changements s’opèrent au Comité d’action sur l’accès à la justice en matière civile et familiale (le Comité d’action). Ce mois-ci, l’ancienne juge en chef Beverly McLachlin est devenue présidente du Comité d’action, qu’elle avait créé il y a une dizaine d’années.

Le juge en chef du Canada, Richard Wagner, a accepté d’assumer le rôle de président honoraire, poursuivant ainsi l’usage instauré par sa prédécesseure. Les juges Elizabeth Corte et Mark Benton occupent les fonctions de vice-présidents. Avec l’aide de la Fondation du droit de l’Ontario et de la Law Foundation of British-Columbia, le Comité d’action prépare un plan de transition, un plan stratégique ainsi qu’un plan de gouvernance, qui seront tous présentés et débattus à l’occasion du sommet annuel du Comité d’action au début du printemps prochain. Par ailleurs, aucun effort n’est ménagé pour promouvoir les Objectifs de développement en matière de justice au Canada et produire des rapports à cet égard.

J’ai récemment eu l’occasion de m’entretenir avec l’ancienne juge en chef McLachlin au sujet de ses souhaits et de ses projets pour le Comité d’action sous sa présidence. Voici ce qu’elle avait à dire à ce propos :

Thomas Cromwell (TC) : Quelles étaient vos attentes lorsque vous avez créé le Comité d’action à l’automne 2008 et, depuis, comment ses travaux répondent-ils à ces attentes?

Beverly McLachlin (BM) : Je souhaitais entamer une discussion sur l’accès à la justice à laquelle participeraient les principaux intervenants de partout au pays et de tous les secteurs – de la communauté juridique, des gouvernements, des tribunaux, des organisations non gouvernementales et des universités – en vue d’examiner les obstacles et de trouver des moyens de les éliminer et d’améliorer l’accès à la justice pour la population.

Les réalisations du Comité d’action ont largement dépassé mes attentes. La vaste discussion nationale que j’espérais a été amorcée, et de nombreuses idées nouvelles sur la manière d’améliorer l’accès à la justice ont vu le jour.

Le niveau d’engagement a aussi grandement dépassé mes attentes. Par conséquent, de nouvelles idées novatrices ont été mises en œuvre – des idées qui améliorent concrètement l’accès des Canadiens à la justice. Lorsque nous avons formé le Comité d’action en 2008, je ne pensais pas qu’il donnerait lieu à un dialogue si fructueux, et encore moins à des résultats réels.

TC : Selon vous, quels sont les changements les plus urgents pour améliorer l’accès à la justice?

BM : Je crois que le plus urgent est de faire évoluer les mentalités chez le public et le gouvernement. Au lieu de considérer la justice comme une chose accessoire ou comme quelque chose que les avocats et les gouvernements sont obligés de soutenir à contrecœur, nous devrions reconnaître que 1) l’accès à la justice sous toutes ses formes constitue l’indicateur d’une société juste et 2) le fait de faciliter l’accès à la justice – fournir aux gens de l’aide juridique, des services de consultation juridique et plus – se traduira par une baisse des frais d’incarcération et de justice ainsi que par une hausse de la productivité des citoyens. Il s’agit d’une stratégie à la fois juste et sensée.

TC : Quel avenir espérez-vous pour le Comité d’action et que souhaitez-vous qu’il accomplisse sous votre présidence?

BM : Les femmes et les hommes passionnés qui ont travaillé au sein du Comité d’action au cours de la dernière décennie ont réalisé beaucoup de choses et jeté de solides bases pour faire face aux défis complexes qui restent à relever pour assurer l’accès à la justice pour tous. J’espère que nous serons en mesure d’établir une organisation-cadre permanente pour nourrir la réflexion novatrice, veiller à ce que les réalisations à ce jour ne soient pas menacées et aller de l’avant avec de nouveaux projets qui continueront d’améliorer l’accès à la justice.

TC : Pour conclure, je suis ravi que Beverley McLachlin ait également accepté de reprendre le flambeau. À compter de janvier, elle sera une collaboratrice régulière en matière d’accès à la justice. La prochaine année s’annonce comme une nouvelle étape emballante dans les efforts soutenus pour améliorer l’accès à la justice au Canada.

L’honorable Thomas Cromwell a été juge d’appel pendant 19 ans et, jusqu’à tout récemment, a présidé le Comité d’action sur l’accès à la justice en matière civile et familiale créé par la juge en chef. Il a pris sa retraite de la Cour suprême du Canada en septembre 2016 et agit désormais comme avocat-conseil principal au sein du groupe national des litiges chez Borden Ladner Gervais.

La très honorable Beverley McLachlin a été juge en chef du Canada de 2000 jusqu’à la mi‑décembre 2017. Elle travaille maintenant comme arbitre et médiatrice au Canada et à l’étranger. Elle siège également à la Cour commerciale internationale de Singapour et au Tribunal d’appel de dernière instance de Hong Kong. Elle préside le Comité d’action sur l’accès à la justice en matière civile et familiale.

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.

Cyberjustice Laboratory launches major “Autonomy through Cyberjustice Technologies” Research Project

The Cyberjustice Laboratory (Laboratoire de Cyberjustice) in Montreal has launched a 6-year research initiative to examine artificial intelligence in the justice sector. This Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) funded project includes 16 sub-projects, and a multi-disciplinary and international team of 45 researchers and 42 partners.

The Autonomy through Cyberjustice Technologies (ACT) research project by the Cyberjustice Laboratory will provide greater understanding of the socio-legal and ethical underpinnings of applying and integrating artificial intelligence tools within the justice system. More information about this important research initiative, being led Professor Karim Benyekhlef, Direcor of the Cyberjustice Laboratory, is available in the press release, available in English here: http://cyberjustice.openum.ca/files/sites/102/PressReleaseACT.pdf, and in French here: http://www.cyberjustice.ca/files/sites/102/CommuniqueAJC-VFinale.pdf. Visit the Autonomy through Cyberjustice Technologies (ACT) website here: https://www.ajcact.org/.

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.

Plain Language in Modern Times – Call for Papers for the Clarity 2018 Symposium

The 2018 international Clarity Conference will take place from October 25 to 27 in Montreal. This year’s conference will focus on the usage of plain language in law to improve access to justice. Conference organizers have issued a call for papers and will be accepting paper proposals for this year’s event until March 31, 2018. The announcement about papers accepted for this year’s event will be made on May 1st. During the 3-day event there will be a total of 30 1-hour presentation blocks, consisting of 60 30-minute presentations. Information on the call for papers, recommended presentation formats, registration and more is available on their website here: www.clarity2018.org/call-for-papers.

For more information on the biennial Clarity Conference, visit their website here: clarity2018.org.

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.

New “Everyday Legal Problems and the Cost of Justice in Canada” Reports

The Canadian Forum on Civil Justice (CFCJ) has published five new reports based on data from their Everyday Legal Problems and the Cost of Justice in Canada study. As part of this national study, over 3,000 people in Canada were surveyed about their attitudes towards and experiences with the justice system in Canada. Specifically, they were asked about their views on the Canadian justice system, the kinds of civil and family justice problems they experience, their methods of dealing with these problems, and the associated costs they incur to resolve them. The five new reports present survey data broken down according to the following respondent characteristics: “Age,” “Gender,” “Canadian Region,” “Education” and “Born in Canada”. The reports are published on the CFCJ’s “Cost of Justice” page and can be accessed by clicking on the hyperlinked titles below:

Age

Gender

Canadian Region

Education

Born in Canada

The Practice of Family Law in Canada: Results from a Survey of Participants at the 2016 National Family Law Program

The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF) has published a new research paper based on findings from a survey of more than 200 lawyers and judges who attended the 2016 National Family Law Program. The National Family Law Program is a high-profile, 4-day biennial conference organized by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, that addresses current issues in the practice of family law in Canada. Topics addressed in the study include participants’ views of and experiences with: court-attached family justice programs; hearing the views of children; issues in custody and access disputes; issues in disputes about child support and spousal support; family violence; unified family courts; and, limited scope legal services in family law disputes.

The research paper was written by Lorne Bertrand, Jo Paetsch, John-Paul Boyd and Nick Bala and the study was funded by the Department of Justice and the Alberta Law Foundation.

The English version of the paper is available on the CRILF website here; the French version is available on the CRILF website here.

Polyamorous Relationships and Family Law in Canada

As our collective understanding of what constitutes “family” continues to change and evolve, the legislation governing the formation and dissolution of family relationships may appear to be lingering behind. In a new paper prepared for the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF), John-Paul E. Boyd explores both the legal components and general public perceptions surrounding polyamorous relationships in Canada. Boyd begins the paper by citing the preliminary findings from the CRILF’s 2016 study on Canadian perceptions of polyamory. After breaking down the data, Boyd moves on to discuss the legal dimensions of polyamorous relationships in the context of the various provincial family law schemes.

Finally, Boyd concludes the paper by posing some questions for members of the family bar to consider when thinking about polyamorous relationships and how they may affect a range of issues, such as:

  • a) Immigration: Can a married spouse sponsor someone coming into Canada to join his or her relationship?
    b) Public employment benefits: Can CPP benefits and employee health benefits be shared with more than 1 other person?
  • c) Wills and estates: To what extent does legislation accommodate concurrent surviving spouses? To what extent can children born from a ménage inherit from non-biological parents who die intestate?
  • d) Adoption and assisted reproduction: How many adults can be legal parents of a child?
  • e) Vital statistics: Can vital statistics agencies be compelled to register more adults as the parents of a child than the biological or adoptive parents of child?; and
  • f) Education and health care: To what extent can education and health care providers be compelled to take instructions from the members of a ménage other than child’s biological parents?

For a more fulsome discussion of the legal dimensions of polyamorous relationships and to see the preliminary results of the 2016 survey, take a look at the report.

Making A2J Matter to the Public

The Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters launched the #justiceforall campaign designed to raise public understanding of accessible justice challenges as a component of a healthy democracy.

A next step in transforming the A2J landscape is to engage the public by raising awareness of the importance of justice issues in Canada.  Building a public understanding of the importance of legal health and the predictability of legal issues throughout one’s life will benefit individuals and will transform the access to justice conversation into an issue relevant to citizens, decision makers, and voters. As long as access to justice challenges are only understood within the justice system, the possible solutions will be limited to the scope of influence, resources and imagination of the justice system.

The Action Committee is asking the A2J leaders in Canada, to help raise the profile of A2J efforts. If you are a leader in A2J, a bencher, a legal academic, a judge or a lawyer with a personal following, we would also welcome your participation in collectively raising this issue. To participate in the social media campaign or add a button on your website, there are links, instructions and graphics available at: www.calibratesolutions.ca/actioncommitteecampaign

Starting a public conversation about access to justice will shift the perception of the issue to a holistic understanding of the law as a part of daily life that can be understood and managed throughout one’s life, often with the help of legal professionals.

This post also appears online here.