“Expanding Access to Justice, Strengthening Federal Programs” – First Annual Report from The White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable

The White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable (WH-LAIR) has released their first annual report, entitled “Expanding Access to Justice, Strengthening Federal Programs”. The report exemplifies the ability and utility of including civil legal aid as one of the tools used by agencies, legal aid service providers, the U.S. Department of Justice and others to affect change in communities and for vulnerable peoples.

The following related publications are available online:
Expanding Access to Justice, Strengthening Federal Programs Report: https://www.justice.gov/atj/page/file/913981/download

White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable Issues First Annual Report to the President Press Release: https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/white-house-legal-aid-interagency-roundtable-issues-first-annual-report-president

Fact Sheet: https://www.justice.gov/opa/press-release/file/914066/download

Blog Post: WH-LAIR Designated Co-Chairs Announce First Annual Report to the President

“The Crisis in the Justice System in England and Wales” – Interim Report from the Bach Commission on Access to Justice

In 2015, British Labour member of the House of Lords, Lord Willy Bach was tasked by several leading members of the United Kingdom’s Labour Party with conducting a review of the legal aid system. In response, Lord Bach created a commission with the larger goal of carrying out a review of access to justice in England and Wales. The first report on the Bach Commission’s findings was published in November, 2016 and is available here: http://www.fabians.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Access-to-Justice_final_web.pdf

A2J: Unaffordable Legal Services – Concepts and Solution

In the recently published “Access to Justice – Unaffordable Legal Services’ Concepts and Solutions”, Ken Chasse discusses a support services model that would offer more cost-efficient legal services delivery, maintain the current management structure of law societies and make legal services more adequately available. Chasse posits that, “the unaffordable legal services problem is not a legal problem” but rather, “a permanent civil service-type institute” that continuously develops and evolves can lend expertise to law societies about cost-cutting strategies that can be employed to make law services more affordable. To read more about this approach to counter unaffordable legal services, view Ken Chasse’s paper here.

Also related, read another recent publication by Ken Chasse -“No Votes in Justice Means More Wrongful Convictions”, that explores how “government neglect of the justice system reduces the quality of justice available”. This second paper is available here.

UVic Access to Justice Centre for Excellence Colloquium’s Final Report

On May 13, 2016 the University of Victoria Access to Justice Centre for Excellence (UVic ACE) hosted a research colloquium attended by 23 participants from a spectrum of British Columbia justice organizations and agencies. The objective of the colloquium was to bring together various justice stakeholders to discuss the possibility of developing a BC justice framework. Discussion at the colloquium was centred around 3 topics:

A. The nature, status and consequences of the research problem: In defining the problem, colloquium participants agreed that there must be a more coordinated effort in gathering empirical data.

B. Laying the groundwork for the creation of the framework: The consensus among colloquium participants was that over-arching strategic justice system objectives must be set out to achieve the framework.

C. Concrete steps for the design and implementation of the framework: The scope of the research framework was discussed at length, with colloquium participants ultimately agreeing that the project should not involve other provinces due to limited resources and problems of cross-provincial coordination.

As part of the day’s discussion, Uvic ACE proposed a number of ways that it could help advance the justice research framework project after the colloquium. Subject to securing the necessary funding, UVic ACE agreed to contribute in the following 5 ways:

  1. Establishing a provincial, multi-sector Research Framework Working Group (“RFWG”) to pursue the design and implementation of a justice research framework
  2. Working with RFWG in the undertaking of research, providing outreach and information, and convening further colloquia
  3. Preparing a report recommending objectives and guiding principles to inform BC justice research and the work of the RFWG
  4. Preparing a literature review on justice research frameworks, a paper analyzing options for data scan, and an inventory of existing Canadian A2J research
  5. Encouraging interest among UVic faculty and students in support of access-oriented justice research projects

    To view the full Colloquium Report containing a more fulsome discussion of the research framework and UVic’s proposals for contributing to the ongoing project click here.

Law, Technology and Access to Justice

To date, there has been much discussion on the impact of technology on traditional legal practice in terms of virtual law firms, online dispute resolution (ODR), and other innovative legal software. At the same time, however, there has been surprisingly little discussion of the impact of technology on A2J for those with low income.

With the intention of filling an important void, The Legal Education Foundation in London has funded a new website: http://law-tech-a2j.org to serve as a resource on developments at the intersection of “law, technology, and access to justice.” The initiative follows from two previous annual reports for 2014 and 2015 (available here), which talk about developments in the field. At present, one of the website’s main features is a blog by researcher, journalist, and legal services consultant Roger Smith (OBE). Other external contributions include pieces from ADR and ODR experts, a piece from a UK developer of family law software, and an account from Hackney Community Law Centre.

The website is looking to post around 10 blogs per month on topics that pertain to the following themes:

  1.  General overviews
  2. The impact of and approaches to overcoming the digital divide
  3. Legal developments of relevance to those who are poor (ex: use of guided pathways, automated documented assembly, ODR)
  4. Innovative ways in which digital provision may be integrated with and supplement conventional services
  5. The potential use of technology to supplement legal services in low income countries

The website is currently inviting blog contributions (around 800 words in length, 1500 being the maximum) for those interested in writing on any of the above themes. Furthermore, the website is also looking for volunteers to be part of a reference group. If you would like to write a contribution for the site, participate in the reference group, or provide any additional feedback, please email Roger at rsmith@rogersmith.info.

What We Know and Need to Know about the State of “Access to Justice” Research

In the U.S., legal researchers, unlike medical professionals, do not have the benefit of drawing funds from a federal agency like the National Institute of Health, which provides more than $30B in grants annually to medical researchers. As such, systemic efforts to collect data about the health of legal systems have been lacking.

There has been somewhat of a renaissance in access to justice research in recent years, which Elizabeth Chambliss, Renee Newman Knake and Robert L. Nelson explore in their paper entitled, “Introduction: What We Know and Need to Know About the State of ‘Access to Justice’ Research”.

At the forefront of this access to justice renaissance there has been a collection of 16 seminal White Papers published through the American Bar Association’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services. According to Chambliss et al, the collection has two primary goals:

  1.  To inform the Commission and its audience about the facts on the ground by presenting the most recent research on issues of relevance to the Commission
  2. To promote the development of shared conversations among academic researchers, legal services providers, and legal services regulators

To use the words of Chambliss et al, “taken together, these sixteen White Papers offer a rich, empirically grounded survey of ‘what we know and need to know’ about the future of legal services.”

For information about the various White Paper topics and themes as well as other access to justice initiatives, view the Report .

Developing a Financially Sustainable Legal Service Model: Law and Development Partnership Report

One of the most pressing access to justice challenges facing low and middle-income countries is being able to offer basic legal services in a financially viable manner. As a means of addressing this problem, the UK-based Law and Development Partnership recently wrote a report entitled “Developing a portfolio of financially sustainable scalable basic legal service models.”

Looking at 17 countries as case studies, the report calculates the costs of taking particular interventions to scale by factoring variables such as population size and delivery costs. In terms of its methodological approach, the report seeks to answer three key questions:

  1. What do we know about the unit costs of basic legal services and how can we calculate them;
  2. How can scaled up legal services be financed sustainably; and
  3. What are the political conditions that enable justice models to be taken to scale?

Beyond suggesting increases in government funding, the report looks at a variety of other options to scale up delivery, drawing on examples from health and education sectors as well as private sector sources. Some of the report’s key recommendations include:

  • Using legal needs surveys more widely in justice sector interventions to gain a better understanding of basic legal services demand
  • Piloting more innovative financing mechanisms and modalities, as well partnerships between donors and private investors to open up funding streams
  • Incorporating the collection of a broader range of cost and benefit data in basic legal service programing to asses the value for money of provision

View a brief description of the report or read a full version of the “Developing a portfolio of financially sustainable, scalable basic legal service models” report.

A Restorative Adjudication Process Shows Promise

Following the integration of restorative procedures into the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission in 2012 – a first for a Canadian province- six adjudication decisions have been reached using restorative procedures. These procedures have carved a promising path forward for access to justice in the province by helping to reduce reliance on lawyers and technical procedures and offering an alternative for quick, fair, proportional and cost-effective adjudications.

With investigation time reduced 83% (from three years to six months) and hearings reduced by more than 80% (from five days to one day), these results point to an option that may be more collaborative, more meaningful and, as one adjudicator wrote, “as efficient and as cost effect…[tive] as possible.”

For more information read, A Restorative Adjudication Process Shows Promise by Lisa Teryl, available here.

An Evaluation of the Clicklaw Wikibook, JP Boyd on Family Law: Final Report

An Evaluation of the Clicklaw Wikibook JP Boyd on Family Law: Final Report by Dr Lorne Bertrand and Ms Joanne Putsch assesses the outputs and outcomes of the wikibook, JP Boyd on Family Law by analyzing usage data from Google Analytics and the data collected from a pop-up survey of wikibook users, a follow-up survey administered one week later and a follow-up survey administered six months later, to gauge the efficacy of the wikibook as a collaborative public legal education model.

Wikibooks are websites built on the MediaWiki platform, an open-source application that powers websites such as Wikipedia and Scholarpedia. Wikibooks are agile, highly adaptable websites typically used to present large amounts of information from multiple authors in a digestible, easily accessible and easily editable manner. The wikibook, JP Boyd on Family Law contains more than 120 webpages of substantive legal information, roughly 500 definitions of common legal words and phrases, links to hundreds of key government and non-government resources, and more than 100 downloadable forms for the British Columbia Supreme and Provincial Courts. In print format, the wikibook exceeds 650 pages.

The findings show that the wikibook is being accessed by both legal professionals and members of the public and that users believe the wikibook to be a reliable source of legal information, more helpful than other resources, easy to navigate, easy to understand and very informative. The findings also show that the wikibook has significant long-term effects, with respondents to the six-month survey stating that:

  • They know more about the law now than before accessing the wikibook
  • The information in the wikibook has improved their understanding of family law issues and the law in general and,
  • The wikibook has improved their understanding of the ways that family law issues are resolved.