17 December 2013

CBA Releases Final Equal Justice Report

The Canadian Bar Association has today released the final report of its Access to Justice Committee, Reaching Equal Justice: An Invitation to Envision and Act (PDF). This report follows the summary report released in August 2013, discussed in my post "CBA Releases Important Report on Improving Access to Justice". The final report is the culmination of the CBA's Equal Justice Initiative, launched in 2012.

Part I of Reaching Equal Justice surveys the nature of the problem and makes the argument about why it's necessary to change the justice system at all. Parts II and III discuss the means by which the justice system might be improved, and how those strategies might be implemented. An executive summary (PDF) is published as a separate document and summaries the three strategies as:
1. Facilitating everyday justice emphasizes looking upstream from the court system for ways to prevent and alleviate problems. For example:
a. Improving legal capability by teaching law as a life skill in public education, for people in transitional phases, in workplaces and through other avenues. 
b. Using legal health checks to build resilience and pre-empt legal problems. 
c. Integrating technological solutions to increase efficiency and accessibility of current processes.
2. Transforming formal justice aims to reform and re-centre courts as the central service responsible for adjudicating people’s problems. For example:
a. Cultivating dispute resolution and effective triage and referral — making it easier for people to navigate the system and get the help they need at the earliest opportunity. 
b. Re-centring courts to be open to user feedback and dedicated to innovation, learning, and integration of evidence-based best practices.
3. Reinventing the delivery of legal services aims for the elimination of assistance gaps and to ensure seamless and meaningful access to justice in every case.
a. Increased collaboration between legal service providers and public legal education and information providers. 
b. More support for people-centred law practices. 
c. More people-centred law practices working with integrated teams of service providers (legal, paralegal and social) to facilitate affordable and holistic delivery of services. 
d. More middle-income Canadians to be covered by legal expense insurance. 
e. Federal commitment to increase funding for legal aid services. 
f. That all lawyers provide pro bono services at some point in their careers, understanding that people do not rely on volunteer services to meet their essential legal needs. 
g. Greater emphasis on access to justice in law schools, including student legal clinics offering representation to low-income persons.
The mechanisms by which these strategies might be implemented are summarized as:
1. Building public engagement and participation requires a convincing answer to the question, “why should I care about equal justice?” The issue will not become a political priority if it is not a strong priority for the Canadian public. 
2. Building collaboration and leadership means establishing effective collaborative structures across national, provincial, territorial, and local levels, including the appointment of access to justice commissioners. 
3. Building capacity for justice innovation involves four main targets:
a. Improved collection and transparency of access to justice metrics. 
b. Development of a national research strategy to advance access to justice research and scholarship. 
c. Increased federal government engagement in ensuring an equal and inclusive justice system, including increased funding for legal aid. 
d. Deeper commitments by the CBA to taking a leadership role in access to justice reform.
Reaching Equal Justice is a call to action for both the public and everyone involved in the federal, provincial and territorial justice systems, and stands beside the final report (PDF) of the national Action Committee on Access to Justice as one of the most important public interest discussions of the justice system in recent memory.

On a personal note, I was very pleased to see the wikibook JP Boyd on Family Law, published and hosted by Courthouse Libraries BC, listed as an "emerging practice" in the delivery of public legal education and information. Thanks for the shout-out.

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