If an advisory group report is adopted at February Convocation, access to justice principles will imbue the core business and functions of the Law Society of Upper Canada.
The Treasurer’s Advisory Group (TAG) Working Group report, presented Jan. 23, is the opus of several years’ work among many organizations. Their goal: find ways to increase the ability of Canadians to use the legal system, despite financial barriers.
Treasurer Conway says the next step in the process is to develop a framework that ensures access to justice objectives are part of every business and governance aspect of the Law Society. That includes looking at paralegal regulations and scope of practice, because “rules and regulations themselves create barriers to access to justice.”
Structural Changes to Support Access Goals
The TAG Working Group recommends that LSUC provide administrative and other “infrastructure” support, to encourage successful collaboration. It notes that collaborative efforts often fail for lack of supporting infrastructure.
Restructuring LSUC committees is among the recommendations up for debate and decision Jan. 27. Steps include:
- Appointing members of the Access, Equity and Aboriginal Issues Committee to serve as vice chairs of: Professional Development and Competence, Professional Regulation, and Paralegal Standing Committees
- Merging the Access to Justice Committee with the Equity and Aboriginal Issues Committee, creating an Access, Equity and Aboriginal Issues Committee.
- Reconstituting the Treasurer’s Advisory Group on Access to Justice as a standing forum — called the Treasurer’s Action Group on Access to
The report notes that paralegal regulation enhanced the Law Society’s mandate with regard to access to justice. Paralegal association have taken part in TAG Working Group meetings.
According to the report, the legal professions must “redefine professionalism and regain a focus on serving the public.” The Law Society can and should take the lead, to profoundly influence change and respond to the challenges people face in accessing justice in Ontario. If adopted, the TAG framework proposals would see the Law Society “take the lead, rather than have change imposed upon it.”
Paralegal Opportunities Included in Roadmap
In January, Law Society Treasurer Tom Conway attended a colloquium to discuss the recommendations contained in the final report of the National Action Committee (NAC) on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. “A Roadmap for Change” is the culmination of NAC’s five-year national examination of access to justice. Its recommendations include increasing opportunities for paralegals, and greater use of qualified non-lawyer information providers.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin created the NAC’s national discussion in 2008. It comprises leaders in the civil and family justice community. NAC members include legal community leaders, two deputy ministers of justice, judicial councils and legal associations.
NAC’s four priority areas are: access to legal services; court process simplification; family law; and prevention, triage and referral. Committee members were among participating groups in last October’s TAG symposium.
Seize This Moment of Unprecedented Engagement
Supreme Court justice the Honourable Thomas A. Cromwell, who co-ordinates NAC, spoke to Convocation last June. “I’ve never seen this level of engagement on an issue, in my legal career,” Justice Cromwell told the benchers. “We can seize this moment.”
TAG’s report to February Convocation states that the time has come for the Law Society to adopt “a more strategic and holistic approach to access to justice issues” and that the proposals offer “a path to proceed forward in a focused and supported way” to fulfill the LSUC mandate.
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