The Chief Justice’s voice rose as she discussed a monopoly lawyers have on legal services. “If you’re the only one who can provide a fundamental social need from which you benefit, I think it follows that you have to provide it,” she said. “And I don’t think it’s enough to say we are providing it for the rich and the corporations. You have to find a way to provide it for everybody.”
Chief Justice McLachlin said that denying citizens access to courtrooms can endanger democracy. “On a macro level, access to justice promotes social stability,” she said. “It obviates the need for self-help and vigilantism.
“We can draft the best rules in the world and we can render the best decisions, but if people can’t have access to our body of law to resolve their own legal difficulties, it is for naught,” she said.
Her speech capped a day in which judges, lawyers and academics from Canada, Britain and the United States bemoaned the fact that middle class people in the court system suffer from a combination of rising legal fees, increasingly complex procedures and the unavailability of legal aid to all but the poorest litigants.
The measures they debated to bring justice back to the middle class ranged from creating a universal legal insurance plan to legal hotlines and panels of legal experts capable of providing advice online.
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Another proposal was that judges and court administrators transform a lawyer-dominated courtroom culture to one that bends over backward to accommodate self-represented litigants.
Two lawyers with the Canadian Auto Workers legal services plan said that a 25-year-old program to provide members with pre-paid legal insurance has been a stunning success. “We could do the same for every Ontarian,” said CAW lawyer Paul Vayda. “It is just a matter of scope.”
- Its the bar’s problem, so long as we have a monopoly.
- The courts have to become self-help friendly
- Maybe we need systems of comprehensive legal insurance.
- Online legal advice.
- National as well as state Chiefs have a key role as advocates for access.
For general background, the paper has a good back-grounder on the trend for the Canadian Supreme Court to come down from its ivory tower.