By: Natalie Oleksinski
Increasing access to justice can mean many things, from establishing a more equal system to creating more resources that help clarify the legal system. For example, simplifying paperwork for those with no prior legal knowledge or reducing very large retainer fees to obtain a lawyer.As a result of the lack of access to justice, court proceedings, legal matters and so on, the cost of being involved in a legal matter is higher and the system is slower.
Canada, as of 2011, ranks 54th in their civil legal aid, which is especially bad for marginalized segments of the population. In 2013, the federal government allocated 1% of its budget to justice, which is a 40:1 ratio when comparing health to justice. More recently, in 2017-18, the health care system had $253.5 billion allocated vs. the justice system with $639.7 million in the federal budget.
There is no denying that Canada has a major access to justice issue, as stated by the Canadian Bar Association. Anyone can help work towards fixing the issues associated with access to justice. It can be as simple as supporting your MPs in working towards law reform initiatives. Additionally, as lawyers or law students you can help with legal education workshops and resources, making sure people develop law as a life skill.
Lawyers and other legal experts have a professional duty to the courts, the justice system, and the public, and therefore, they must ensure that the public feels confident that our justice system is accessible and equal. Lawyers can help with ensuring that the 31 targets for achieving equal access to justice by 2030 are completed. Those who are not in the legal field can also help move the targets along by supporting the goals of The Working Group of the Canadian Bar Association Access to Justice Committee and the Association of Legal Aid Plans of Canada (ALAP) on their National Legal Aid Benchmarks project:
- “to build awareness of the need for legal aid renewal,
- to generate discussion about the potential for national legal aid benchmarks to assist in this renewal,
- to build public and political support for national legal aid benchmarks, and
- to solicit feedback on the content of national legal aid benchmarks.”
The National Legal Aid Benchmark can be achieved with the help of anyone by urging provincial or territorial legal aid plans and other legal service organizations in your region to endorse the six benchmarks of: “(1) A National Public Legal Assistance System, (2) Scope of Services, (3) Service Priorities, (4) Spectrum of Services, (5) Quality of Services and (6) A Supported, Collaborative, Integrated Service Sector.”
To get an understanding of how the legal system works you can start by checking out Steps to Justice or the Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN) for various documents that will help shed light on how the courts operate. If you have never dealt with a legal issue, OJEN has a great resource to act one out! Check out this link to play a game or print out a game, on a variety of legal issues someone may face such as family law issues, employment issues and housing issues. You can also check out Level's Indigenous Youth Outreach Program's online tool to educate yourself about how the criminal justice system works and learn more about Indigenous legal systems.
More Access to Justice Guides and Resources:
→ Anishinabek Access to Justice Guide
→ Legal Health Checks
→ Legal Health Questionnaire for lawyers
 Canadian, supra note 1 at 49.