The Challenge of Access to Justice for Low Income Canadians

Peter B. GiblettStarred Page By Peter B. Giblett, 23rd Feb 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Society & Issues

The "Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters" in Ottawa raised questions recently about access to justice and how this is becoming an increasing problem in Canada, especially for low and middle-income families.

Equal Treatment under the Law

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides "every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination". Whilst discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability may be illegal there is no guarantee that a poor man gets the same rights as a rich woman there is no equality on the basis of ability to pay.

Many existing problems exist in the administration of Justice, in particular:

  • Assistance for everyday legal problems, e.g. 40% of marriages will end in divorce.
  • Poor and vulnerable people may be prone to legal problems.
  • One type of legal problem (for example, domestic violence) may lead to or be aggravated by, others (such as relationship breakdown, child education issues, etc.).

It seems true that legal problems for the poorest in our society have a social and economic cost, also Supreme Court of Canada Justice Thomas Cromwell stated "The Ontario Civil Legal Needs project found that 1 in 7 low and middle-income Ontarians with a civil legal problem in the past three years did not follow through on it because of cost." This highlights a problem where a segment of society that is in particular need of access to the law is failing to get any support whatsoever.

Assisting Those in most Need

Critics argue that there is a great need to seek ways to ensure that our legal system is more effective at serving those people who are in most need, and this should be as true for drafting of a will, dealing with immigration or refugee status, sorting out a rental dispute as it is for building a criminal defence.

Currently the poorest in our society a guaranteed funding for their defence in a criminal matter, yet will not get a penny to help then when it comes to civil or family law, yet with civil matters costs can be drastically reduced by looking for alternatives. Many people (irrespective of their income level) simply need more information about how to resolve their problem, The access to the right information/forms may actually enable them to make decisions or plan for their needs in ways that suit them best, making use relevant data and legal forms, which if properly available (e.g. via an on-line database) could actually save society money.

In reality most people have little of no understanding either about what their rights are or where to look them up and in reality that could be provided without people needing access to a lawyer, or going to the expense of standing in front of a judge.

Early Resolution Lowering Costs

This chart indicates the potential for reducing costs in respect to all civil legal matters. The number of cases that reach a full blown trial should be limited in all cases (whatever the financial capacity of the parties involved), when you look the early resolution sector, these can dramatically reduce the total cost of resolution.

Triage systems, mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution minimise costs even where a case eventually does go to trial because it provides the opportunity for the parties to come to agreement on certain aspects of a case, leaving only the points of dispute to be argued in front of a judge, but for the majority of cases there should be no need to involve either lawyers or the courts because there is greater opportunity to resolve matters at an early stage.

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Tags

Ability To Pay, Access To Justice, Civil Law, Discrimination, Family Law, How To, Low Income, Mediation, Middle Income, Resolve Your Legal Problem

Meet the author

author avatar Peter B. Giblett
Author of "Is your Business Ready? For the Social Media Revolution"

Social media consultant, with C-Level background.

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Comments

author avatar Nancy Czerwinski
23rd Feb 2015 (#)

Peter, thanks for sharing such an informative article. I really liked the chart with the information that it provided.

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author avatar Nancy Czerwinski
23rd Feb 2015 (#)

Peter, I forgot to tell you congratulations on the star. Excellent article.

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author avatar Retired
23rd Feb 2015 (#)

Excellent post!

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author avatar Carol Roach
24th Feb 2015 (#)

great articles, here in Quebec we have legal aid, and there are many places to get legal information such as the McGill University legal clinic which is free, project genesis which give information on just about anything and also has a lawyer working pro bono and so on

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
24th Feb 2015 (#)

Yes Carol many of the universities that teach law also have legal clinics. Project Genesis sounds like something that the whole of Canada can learn from. Thank you.

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
25th Feb 2015 (#)

The top lawyers should volunteer for some pro bono service for an inclusive society so that the poor do not fall through the cracks of the system. They should know “not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done" siva

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
25th Feb 2015 (#)

Actually one of the suggestions is that the Bar Associations for each province actually manage a program that requires each member to provide so many pro-bono hours, but I am of the opinion this does not solve the problem of funding for poor Canadians.

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author avatar M G Singh
28th Feb 2015 (#)

Nice article highlighting a fact that is prevalent in all capitalistic and democratic countried

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
1st Mar 2015 (#)

True. Law has primarily been in the domain of those who are able to afford it - it is a worthwhile endeavour to make it more accessible to all.

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author avatar Melissa Dawn
24th Mar 2015 (#)

Hmmmm you might have me prompted on writing an article here Peter :-) Here in NS we have legal information society a non-profit as well as some free law clinics. Not enough but it does help some.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
24th Mar 2015 (#)

Glad to assist Melissa.

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author avatar Grant Peterson
12th Apr 2015 (#)

No matter how many non-profits provide legal access to Canada's poorest there will remain a large disparity between the legal capability a member of the richest 3% have versus any of the rest of society. and in many ways corporations succeed because they can delay law suits against them to the extent that any complainant will eventually give up.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
13th Apr 2015 (#)

Very true.

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