09 October 2013

National Action Committee Releases Final Report

Yesterday, the national Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters released its final report, "Access to Civil and Family Justice: A Roadmap for Change."

The Action Committee was convened at the request of Canada's Chief Justice, Beverley McLachlin, in 2008 to consider how the problem of declining access to justice might be addressed. Justice Thomas Cromwell, also of the Supreme Court of Canada, described the purpose of the Action Committee in these terms:
"The Action Committee…sees itself as a broadly representative group of leaders in the field of civil and family justice which can develop consensus about priorities, encourage organizations and groups to take the lead with respect to them and provide ongoing consultation, coordination and advice."
Four working groups were struck, the Court Processes Simplification Working Group, the Report of the Access to Legal Services Working Group, the Prevention, Triage and Referral Working Group and the Family Justice Working Group, each composed of leading judges, lawyers, academics and government representatives from across Canada. These groups released their final reports in 2012 and 2013; they are available on the website of the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice. All worth are reading, especially, in my view, the report of the Family Justice group, "Meaningful Change for Family Justice: Beyond Wise Words."

The Action Committee's final report synthesizes the lessons and recommendations of the four working groups, but, as is the way with all committees and working groups, leaves these things for implementation by government and justice system stakeholders. These are the somewhat sobering words of the Chief Justice in her foreword to the final report:
"Under the leadership of the Honourable Thomas A. Cromwell and each working group’s chair, the working groups have produced reports that outline the concrete challenges and provide a rational, coherent and imaginative vision for meeting those challenges. They focus not only on good ideas, but on concrete actions to change the status quo. The Action Committee’s final report bridges the work of the four working groups and identifies a national roadmap for improving the ability of every Canadian to access the justice system.  
"Our task is far from complete. The next step is implementation – to put the Action Committee’s vision into action. But it is not amiss to celebrate what we have achieved thus far: a plan for practical and achievable actions that will improve access to family and civil justice across Canada. ..."
Or, as the Action Committee itself observed:
"The report does not set out to provide detailed guidance on how to improve all aspects of the civil and family justice system across Canada’s ten provinces and three territories. That needs to come largely from the ground up, through strong mechanisms and institutions developed locally. Local service providers, justice system stakeholders and individual champions must be the change makers. ... 
"Access to justice is at a critical stage in Canada. What is needed is major, sustained and collaborative system-wide change – in the form of cultural and institutional innovation, research and funding-based reform."
I won't try to summarize the report, although at 24 pages of primary content it is a model of brevity in a legal landscape inclined to the prolix. You really should read the report yourself. Here, however, are the Action Committee's "nine-point access to justice roadmap designed to bridge the implementation gap between ideas and action" under the three main areas it sees as needing reform:
A. Innovation Goals 
1. Refocus the justice system to reflect and address everyday legal problems 
2. Make essential legal services available to everyone 
3. Make courts and tribunals fully accessible multi-service centres for public dispute resolution 
4. Make coordinated and appropriate multidisciplinary family services easily accessible 
B. Institutional and Structural Goals 
5. Create local and national access to justice implementation mechanisms 
6. Promote a sustainable, accessible and integrated justice agenda through legal education 
7. Enhance the innovation capacity of the civil and family justice system  
C. Research and Funding Goals 
8. Support access to justice research to promote evidence-based policy making 
9. Promote coherent, integrated and sustained funding strategies
Much thanks are due to Professor Trevor Farrow, Chair of the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice, who I understand is the uncredited author of the final report.