Rise Women’s Legal Centre Publishes Evaluation Report

The Rise Women’s Legal Centre is a community legal centre located in Vancouver, B.C. that helps self-identifying, low-income women access family law services and learn about their legal rights. Rise recently published an Evaluation Report that provides details on services they provided between September 2017 and August 2018. The report includes information on the populations they served, the legal needs of their clients, factors that led clients to seek out services at Rise, the extent to which Rise met their legal needs, among a range of other topics.

Highlights from the report include:

  • Most clients (almost 50%) needed legal services for family law matters affecting their children, including help with custody/access/ parenting time matters and child support matters.
  • A significant number of clients sought legal services for matters which would contribute to their financial self-sufficiency, including property division (30%) and spousal support (27%).
  • More than 20% had accessed legal services prior to contacting Rise. These included clients who had run out of money to pay for a lawyer or exhausted their legal aid coverage accessing prior services.

The Rise Women’s Legal Services One-Year Evaluation Report is available in full here: Rise Women’s Legal Services – One-Year Evaluation Report (Diana TIndall) 2018-10-14.

Legal Aid Cuts in the UK Found to Leave Millions Without Access to Legal Help

Research conducted by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has found that cuts to legal aid in England and Wales have ‘decimated’ the legal help service. The data analyzed by BBC is from 2011-12 to present. Findings from this recent BBC investigation include the following:

  • More than 15 million people now live in areas with one service provider
  • Every year, an estimated 1,000,000 fewer claims are processed
  • Approximately 50% of all community care legal aid providers are based in London

The investigation also highlights a more than 5-fold increase in self-representation that has resulted from cuts to the legal aid scheme.

Links to the methodology paper, and two full data sets are included in the BBC news article, published here: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-46357169.

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.

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/.

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: How it’s looking on the ground

by Thomas Cromwell

West Coast LEAF is a legal advocacy group whose mandate is to use the law to create an equal and just society for all women and people who experience gender-based discrimination. In other words, it is an organization dedicated to access to justice writ large. I was able to speak to Zahra Jimale, West Coast LEAF’s Director of Law Reform about its work, her conception of access to justice and, most importantly, how successful we’ve been in improving access to justice on the ground. Here is what she told me.
 
TC: Tell me about your role at West Coast Leaf

ZJ: In collaboration with the community, West Coast LEAF uses litigation, law reform, and public legal education to make change. We do our work in six focus areas: access to healthcare; access to justice; economic security; freedom from gender-based violence; justice for those who are criminalized; and the right to parent. As the Director of Law Reform, I provide leadership, strategic planning and project management with respect to policy and law reform in all of the six focus areas. I work with our team to develop the organization’s position statements and recommendations on implementation and reform of policy and law. I bring to this role my experience of founding and operating an independent family law practice where I provided a variety of family law services, including unbundled legal services, legal coaching, collaborative divorce, and mediation.

TC: What do you perceive as the biggest access to justice gap?

ZJ: There is a significant gap between what the public expects of the justice system and what the justice system delivers and is currently capable of delivering.

There is lack of deeper understanding of what it means to truly access justice; that justice is not simply achieved by accessing, but by obtaining just outcomes in an efficient and cost effective manner, regardless of the type of dispute resolution process that is pursued, be it court or alternative dispute resolution processes; that meaningful access to justice requires recognizing and dismantling the various barriers faced by many, and in particular, that there are intersecting barriers faced by certain populations because of historical and/or current systemic challenges. The complexity of the system, long delays, lack of access to affordable and timely legal advice and representation, and lack of adequately funded legal aid system continue to widen the gap.

An urgent systemic change is required to reduce these barriers and an immediate action must be taken to address the growing access to justice crisis, especially in family law. Where individuals are unable to access lawyers due to prohibitive costs and lack of public service, they are left with no choice but to either forego rights and interests, including the protection of their children’s rights and interests, or represent themselves without appropriate legal advice and/or representation. This is why West Coast LEAF and a team of pro bono counsel is representing the Single Mothers’ Alliance and an individual plaintiff in an ongoing constitutional claim against the B.C. government and the Legal Services Society for failing to provide adequate family law services, in particular to women fleeing violent relationships.

Zahra Jimale

TC: There is a lot of talk about the access to justice problem, but do you see signs of improvement on the ground?

ZJ: Unfortunately, we are far from seeing meaningful access to justice. Although there has been a lot of talk and some action, particularly in diverting disputants away from the court system and litigation generally, the justice system remains inaccessible to those that need it most. The barriers to accessing justice and the significant adverse consequences, including safety concerns for those fleeing violent relationships, are ongoing. Even though nearly half of Canadians over the age of 18 experience at least one civil or family law problem over any given three-year period, justice system funding continues to be woefully inadequate.

TC: If you could do any one thing to improve access to justice, what would you do and why?
 
ZJ: I would change the way we perceive access to justice. I believe once we recognize access to justice as a human right that is fundamental to the protection and promotion of the rule of law, we will then be forced to take the necessary action to ensure that it is meaningful and protected. This includes increasing the public’s knowledge of the justice system and how to manage and resolve legal problems; making available cost effective and appropriate avenues for resolution; providing meaningful access to resources and services; ensuring adequate funding of legal aid; and maintaining appropriate judicial complements and effectively functioning courts.

This article originally appeared on The Lawyer’s Daily on August 13, 2018. It is the eleventh 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.

Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family Publishes Report on Summary Legal Advice Services

A recent “Summary Legal Advice Services in Alberta” report from the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF) examines two years of data from almost 8,000 client surveys regarding summary legal advice received from community legal clinics in Alberta. The clinics that participated in the study are:

  • Calgary Legal Guidance
  • Edmonton Community Legal Centre
  • Central Alberta Community Legal Clinic (Red Deer)
  • Lethbridge Legal Guidance

Key findings from the report include:

  • 93% of clients were very comfortable or comfortable receiving legal advice in English
    • Of note: It was impossible to determine the number of potential clients who did not attend the clinics because they are uncomfortable receiving legal advice in English
  • Family law matters accounted for 46% of clients’ legal problems, followed by landlord-tenant disputes (14%) and immigration and sponsorship issues (9%); family law matters were most likely to a problem for clients aged 35 to 44
  • 90% of clients reported that they had a better understanding of their legal rights and responsibilities, their legal options and the pros and cons of those options, and what to do next as a result of attending the clinic
  • 40% of clients had 15 to 29 minutes with the clinic lawyer; 38% had 30 to 44 minutes
  • 90% of clients felt they had enough time with the clinic lawyer to talk; clients with appointments longer than 30 minutes were more likely to agree that they had a better understanding of their legal issue and what to do next than clients with shorter appointments
  • Almost two-thirds of clients received a written summary of the lawyer’s advice; those receiving a summary were more likely to agree that they understood their legal rights and responsibilities, their legal options and the pros and cons of those options, and what to do next
  • The number of clients receiving a written summary increased by 14% between the first and second years of the project
  • The majority of clients responding to a follow-up survey administered two months after clients’ appointments had made use of the advice they received
  • 63% of clients were women, 54% were between the ages of 25 and 44, 61% had completed or taken some post-secondary education and 40% were employed full- or part-time

The complete “Summary Legal Advice Services in Alberta: Survey Results from the First Two Years of Data Collection” report is available on the CRILF website here: http://www.crilf.ca/Documents/ALF_Clinic_Survey_Year_2_-_May_2018.pdf. This report was produced at the request of the Alberta Law Foundation.

 

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

New Report Examines the Role of Assisted Digital Support Services for Civil Justice System Users in the UK

The recently published “Assisted Digital Support for Civil Justice System Users: Demand, Design, & Implementation” report offers insight into the use of ‘assisted digital support’ (ADS) to facilitate access to online civil justice services among low-income earners, the elderly, people living in social housing and people without degrees in the UK. The report indicates that ADS services, including face-to-face assistance and web chat can be useful for engaging people online. The report also recommends additional research into whether or to what extent ADS services are helpful for people without “legal capability”. Quoting the report, this article highlights the following: “That users undertake a range of activities online is not to say that they have the capability to undertake legal processes online”.

“Assisted Digital Support for Civil Justice System Users: Demand, Design, & Implementation” was prepared for the Civil Justice Council (UK) by Catrina Denvir, with the assistance of Reem Ayad, Nerissa Morales Cordoba, Mbeti Michuki, Adel Msolly and Annie Wood. The full report can be accessed here: https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/cjc-report-on-assisted-digital-support.pdf.

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.