Of the estimated 45 per cent of Canadians who will encounter a legal problem over the next three years, many will not get the help they need, because of “perceived or actual barriers.”
That is the conclusion the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) came to, after researching a report on how lawyers can increase access to justice. The report mentions using paralegals as part of “integrated, people-focused” legal services.
The organization is calling for more education for all Canadians about legal issues, greater investment in legal aid from the federal government, and more commitment from lawyers to provide legal aid in the future.
The 172-page “Reaching Equal Justice Report: An invitation to Envision and Act” report was released today. CBA outlines 31 targets. John Sims, who chairs the Access to Justice committee, says the recommendations are “ambitious” but necessary.
“It’s up to us and others in the system to work together to help generate a plan that people can relate to and imagine engaging in,” Sims says. “The report is an invitation to engage and get involved.”
While the report calls on the federal government to increase funding for legal aid, Sims says it’s not just about money — there is also a “leadership role governments need to play.”
The report calls on the federal government to increase funding for legal aid. Sims notes that money is not the only barrier to justice. Finding the right legal resources, in the right place, for the particular issue, are also issues for Canadians with legal needs. In larger communities, lawyers tend to concentrate on commercial work, as opposed to “people-centred” law for individuals with legal issues, Sims said.
The CBA report’s strategies include:
- Teaching law as a life skill in public education, for people in transitional phases, in workplaces, and through other avenues. Also, integration of technology solutions to increase efficiency and accessibility of current processes.
- Reform and re-centre courts as the central service responsible for adjudicating people’s programs. For example, cultivate dispute resolution and effective triage and referral, making it easier for people to navigate the system.
- Reinvent delivery of legal services by encouraging:
- More “people-centred” law practices working with integrated teams of service providers (legal, paralegal, and social) to facilitate affordable and holistic delivery of services.
- More middle-income Canadians to be covered by legal expense insurance.
- A federal commitment to increase funding for legal aid services.
- All lawyers to provide pro bono services at some point in their careers.
The report calls for:
- Building strong public engagement and participation to get people to care about equal justice.
- Appointment of access to justice commissioners.
- Building capacity for justice innovation involves four main targets:
- Improved collection and transparency of access to justice metrics.
- Development of a national research strategy to advance access to justice research and scholarship.
- Increased federal government engagement in ensuring an equal and inclusive justice system, including increased funding for legal aid.
- Deeper commitments by the CBA to taking a leadership role in access to justice reform.
The 31 targets to be reached by 2020 include:
- Establishing national benchmarks for legal aid coverage.
- Having federal, provincial, and territorial governments establish a national working group that includes recipients of legal aid, to develop national benchmarks.
- Making all Canadians living at and below the poverty line eligible for full coverage of essential public legal services.