Access to Justice
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Access to Justice
The broad concept of access to justice centers on people’s ability to locate, understand and afford legal services and resources to defend and protect their legal rights. The complexity of the Ontario court system and the high cost of obtaining legal services have contributed to three access to justice issues: a rise in unrepresented litigants in Ontario courts; growing Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) financial issues; and the emergence of e-lawyering and alternative legal service solutions.
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Introduction to Access to Justice in Ontario

The Ontario Access to Justice Act, 2006 was passed to “modernize and improve the people's access to the justice system,” and “provide greater openness, transparency and accountability” by regulating paralegals, reforming the justice of the peace system and creating the Legislation Act, an Act which modernizes the rules for interpreting and publicizing Ontario’s statutes and regulations. (Michael Bryant, Minister of the Attorney General, Statement by the Minister, First Reading of the Access to Justice Act, October 27, 2005) Since theAccess to Justice Act, 2006 the Ministry of the Attorney General has reported on its progress in the Five-Year Review of Paralegal Regulation in Ontario, 2012.

 

In addition to the Access to Justice Act, 2006, Coulter A. Osborne, for the Ministry of the Attorney General, consulted and reported on ways to promote access to justice in the Civil Justice Reform Project 2007. The report identified an increase in the amount of unrepresented litigants in Ontario courts due to “the rising cost of legal fees making representation out of reach for low and middle-class Ontarians; the prevalence of a “do-it-yourself” attitude among some litigants; and litigants seeking to pursue a claim or defence on their own, despite the advice of formerly retained counsel” (Page 44). Among the many recommendations the report suggests that the Ministry should study unrepresented litigants in Ontario to determine the most cost effective way to provide legal information and assistance to people. It also recommends that bar associations and litigators consider new and innovative methods to promote access to justice.

 

The rise in unrepresented litigants is in part a result of the very low income threshold for individuals to qualify for Legal Aid Ontario services. LAO generally assists individuals who make less than $10,000/year through the LAO certificate program, through its network of 77 independent community legal clinics, or by providing duty counsel in court. The Ministry of the Attorney General and legal profession stakeholders have acknowledged the need for legal aid reform. The Ministry of the Attorney General’s 2008 Report of the Legal Aid Review identified seven key themes for strategic direction of the Legal Aid Ontario system, including changing the financial eligibility criteria for legal aid and making a range of legal aid services available to all Ontario citizens.

 

The Auditor General 2011 Legal Aid Ontario Report  discusses Legal Aid Ontario’s continuing financial and workload pressures: “For at least the last decade, Ontario has spent more on legal aid support per capita than any other province, even though it has one of the lowest income eligibility thresholds and issues fewer certificates entitling people to legal aid per capita than most other provinces. Legal Aid Ontario acknowledges the need to address a history of operating deficits, make its operations more cost-effective, improve access to its services, and help make the courts more efficient.” (Page 204)  More recently, the Canadian Bar Association (CBA)Future Directions for Legal Aid Delivery (2013) reported “Cuts to public funding and support for legal aid have resulted in continually decreasing financial eligibility levels and increasingly limited opportunities for legal advice….” (page 1)

 

The challenge of unrepresented litigants navigating Ontario courts and the state of legal aid has provoked responses and alternative solutions from academics, the legal profession and the private sector. The Attorney General’s 2008 Report of the Legal Aid Review motivated the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law to create the Middle Income Access to Civil Justice Initiative, which seeks to address the growing concern of access to justice for the middle class and working poor in Ontario by studying, discussing and proposing solutions for Ontario. Pro Bono Law Ontario (PBLO) is the legal profession's response to unmet civil legal needs. PBLO is a charity that promotes and facilitates the provision of pro bono legal services throughout the province. The organization attempts to address the need for access to justice for middle and low income Ontarians through projects like its websiteLegalHelpOntario.org, which provides free legal resources for the public.

 

Alternative Business Structures (ABS’s) are one private sector response to the gap between those who do not qualify for legal aid but cannot afford to hire a lawyer. These new models of legal service delivery, already well-known in the US and UK, are making an entrance into the Ontario marketplace. Stakeholders and media discuss how the rise of “e-lawyer” services, like Direct Law and Legal Zoom, appear to have the potential to address some of the issues surrounding access to justice, like the high cost of legal services, by providing low cost online legal services.

 

This Issue Binder links to a variety of resources related to access to justice in Ontario and provides resources for unrepresented litigants.  It will be updated as new material becomes available.

 

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Legislative Assembly of Ontario | Bills & Lawmaking | Past & Present | 38:2 Bill 14, Access to Justice Act, 2006

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The Ontario Access to Justice Act, 2006was passed to “modernize and improve the people's access to the justice system,” and “provide greater openness, transparency and accountability” by regulating paralegals, reforming the justice of the peace system and creating the Legislation Act, an Act which modernizes the rules for interpreting and publicizing Ontario’s statutes and regulations. (Michael Bryant, Minister of the Attorney General, Statement by the Minister, First Reading of the Access to Justice Act, October 27, 2005) Since theAccess to Justice Act, 2006 the Ministry of the Attorney General has reported on its progress in the Five-Year Review of Paralegal Regulation in Ontario, 2012.

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Access to Justice Initiative | University of Toronto Faculty of Law

Access to Justice Initiative | University of Toronto Faculty of Law | Access to Justice | Scoop.it
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The challenge of unrepresented litigants navigating Ontario courts and the state of legal aid has provoked responses and alternative solutions from academics, the legal profession and the private sector. The Attorney General’s 2008 Report of the Legal Aid Review motivated the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law to create the Middle Income Access to Civil Justice Initiative, which seeks to address the growing concern of access to justice for the middle class and working poor in Ontario by studying, discussing and proposing solutions for Ontario.

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National Unrepresented Litigants Project (2013)

If you are representing yourself in a family or civil case, we want to know about your experience dealing with the legal system.
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Dr. Judy Macfarlane, University of Windsor. See also the blog: 

http://drjuliemacfarlane.wordpress.com
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Ontario Civil Legal Needs Project | The Law Society of Upper Canada

Ontario Civil Legal Needs Project | The Law Society of Upper Canada | Access to Justice | Scoop.it
Ontario public to be given opportunity to talk about their legal needs - News Canada Media Release Fact Sheet Access to Justice Committee Report to Convocation - June 26, 2008 The
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The Cost of Justice by the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice .pdf

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Envisioning Equal Justice Project: 3 strategies

Envisioning Equal Justice Project: 3 strategies | Access to Justice | Scoop.it
The Canadian Bar Association provides educational and networking opportunities for lawyers, judges, notaries, law teachers, and law students across Canada.
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Envisioning Equal Justice Project by the Canadian Bar Association. Includes 5 Discussion papers:

Access to Justice Metrics, April 2013

Toward National Standards for Publicly-Funded Legal Services April 2013

Future Directions for Legal Aid Delivery, April 2013

Tension at the Border”: Pro Bono and Legal Aid, October 2012

Underexplored Alternatives for the Middle Class, February 2013

 

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Ontario budget falls short on fixing legal aid: Boxall - Canadian Lawyer Magazine

Ontario budget falls short on fixing legal aid: Boxall
Canadian Lawyer Magazine
The Ontario government also said it's implementing what it referred to as “transformative initiatives” in the justice system.
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Canadian Lawyer on Legal Aid in Ontario 2013 Budget

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Litigant decries ‘post-traumatic court disorder’ | Headline News | Law Times News

Law Times keeps Ontario lawyers at the top of their game by providing timely, pertinent information on case law, professional development, governance issues as well as in-depth coverage and commentary on the issues of the day.
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Civil Justice Refrom Project.pdf

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Ministry of the Attorney General Civil Justice Reform Project (November 2007) discusses unrepresented litigants.

In addition to the Access to Justice Act, 2006, Coulter A. Osborne, for the Ministry of the Attorney General, consulted and reported on ways to promote access to justice in the Civil Justice Reform Project 2007. The report identified an increase in the amount of unrepresented litigants in Ontario courts due to “the rising cost of legal fees making representation out of reach for low and middle-class Ontarians; the prevalence of a “do-it-yourself” attitude among some litigants; and litigants seeking to pursue a claim or defence on their own, despite the advice of formerly retained counsel” (Page 44). Among the many recommendations the report suggests that the Ministry should study unrepresented litigants in Ontario to determine the most cost effective way to provide legal information and assistance to people. It also recommends that bar associations and litigators consider new and innovative methods to promote access to justice.

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Legal Aid Report 2008_EN.pdf

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Report of the Legal Aid Review (Trebilcock, 2008 for the Ministry of the Attorney General)

The rise in unrepresented litigants is in part a result of the very low income threshold for individuals to qualify for Legal Aid Ontario services. LAO generally assists individuals who make less than $10,000/year through the LAO certificate program, through its network of 77 independent community legal clinics, or by providing duty counsel in court. The Ministry of the Attorney General and legal profession stakeholders have acknowledged the need for legal aid reform. The Ministry of the Attorney General’s 2008 Report of the Legal Aid Review identified seven key themes for strategic direction of the Legal Aid Ontario system, including changing the financial eligibility criteria for legal aid and making a range of legal aid services available to all Ontario citizens.

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The Right Honourable Madam Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin: Faculty of Law - Access to Civil Justice Colloquium Keynote Speaker February 10th 2011 - Munk School (video)

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Faculty of Law - Access to Civil Justice Colloquium Keynote Speaker February 10th 2011

The Right Honourable Madam Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin

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Pro Bono Law Ontario

Pro Bono Law Ontario | Access to Justice | Scoop.it
Probononet for Lawyers is an online community designed to promote and support volunteerism in the legal profession.
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 Pro Bono Law Ontario (PBLO) is the legal profession's response to unmet civil legal needs. PBLO is a charity that promotes and facilitates the provision of pro bono legal services throughout the province. The organization attempts to address the need for access to justice for middle and low income Ontarians through projects like its websiteLegalHelpOntario.org, which provides free legal resources for the public.

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Auditor General Ontario: Legal Aid Ontario Report 2011

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The Auditor General 2011 Legal Aid Ontario Report  discusses Legal Aid Ontario’s continuing financial and workload pressures: “For at least the last decade, Ontario has spent more on legal aid support per capita than any other province, even though it has one of the lowest income eligibility thresholds and issues fewer certificates entitling people to legal aid per capita than most other provinces. Legal Aid Ontario acknowledges the need to address a history of operating deficits, make its operations more cost-effective, improve access to its services, and help make the courts more efficient.” (Page 204)

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Access to Justice | Canadian Forum on Civil Justice

Access to Justice | Canadian Forum on Civil Justice | Access to Justice | Scoop.it
The Clearinghouse provides information on civil justice systems and civil justice reform initiatives. It contains bibliographic records of published materials such as books, articles, policy reports and conference proceedings.
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Access to Justice Clearinghouse 

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Access to Justice Reports Released – Slaw

Access to Justice Reports Released – Slaw | Access to Justice | Scoop.it
Earlier this month, Kirk Makin of the Globe and Mail scooped an announcement of a major set of Reports on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters, an inititaitive that started with the C
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Includes discussion of the Canadian Bar Association Envisioning Equal justice project

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Ted Tjaden: Access to Law-Related Information in Canada in The Digital Age – Slaw

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Masters Thesis, LLM, 2005

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Legal Aid in Canada: Resource and Caseload Statistics (Statistics Canada)

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