What can we learn from Canadian efforts to promote access to justice
The approaches of Canadian law reformers are examined to find out how their insights could provide us with some fresh strategies for helping LiPs,
The first interview is with Zahra Jimale, a director of law reform at the legal advocacy group, West Coast LEAF. Jimale presents us with many concerns around access to justice that seem to echo criticisms of our own system, including the complexity of the legal process, long delays, and the lack of legal aid and affordable advice.
A distinctive feature of the groups approach is its central aim of improving the public understanding of the meaning of ‘access to justice’. In particular, it is emphasised that it requires not just being able to access a system, but
“obtaining just outcomes in an efficient and cost effective manner, regardless of the type of dispute resolution process that is pursued”.
Jimale hopes that by changing the perception of justice in this direction, the fundamental importance of access to justice will be recognised and proper protection for it will ensue.
One legal area that was picked out as particularly concerning, for reasons of prohibitive cost and lack of public service, was that of family law, featured in the second interview with
Diana Lowe. Diana is the co-lead of the Reforming the Family Justice System (RFJS) initiative. This is a project that aims to separate out the social, relationship and financial issues that plague family law disputes, from the legal issues in order to address them. Although RFJS is not directly concerned with access to justice, it does deal with the crucial problems that are prevalent in legal disputes in the UK as well. And, especially when we are dealing with LiPs, it is important that the best strategies are available to forestall a vicious cycle where social, financial and legal factors exacerbate each other.
UK LiPs may even be the prime beneficiaries if some of the RFJS’s supported measures were adapted and implemented here. For example, they would profit from public education in the benefits of cooperation between parents and from the provision of technological tools that aim to facilitate such collaboration (see for instance CoParenter). In addition, a whole host of expert support networks are suggested by the RFJS to parents at an early stage, including family practitioners, financial advisers and wellness coaches. This presents us with an interesting parallel to the positive reception of co-located services for LiPs in the UK, where the aim is also to provide easy early-stage access to the most suitable experts.
Despite the undoubted value of such reforms, they do not claim to be (and should not be seen to be) a replacement for ensuring meaningful access to justice. Rather, it is proposed that we combine the valuable insights of projects such as West Coast Leaf and RFJS to aim for a multi-layered strategy to support litigants and particularly LiPs. Reformers of our own system should aim to ensure that individuals receive both legal and personal assistance as they move through the legal process by implementing the kinds of approaches outlined above.