A positive role for lawyers in the evolution of civil justice
When the Civil Justice Working Group of the Justice Reform Task Force released its final report in November 2006, it introduced broad ideas for change. In the short time since then, several things have become clear: these reforms will transform practice before the courts; the government is determined to move forward; the profession has been invited to participate; and, if we wish to do so, it had better be now.
The objective of the proposed reforms – and in particular the court rule changes and the Legal Hub – is to make our civil justice system more responsive, accessible and cost-effective. The goal is a positive one, worthy of our full attention and engagement.
The rule changes are directed toward “proportionality,” a core value of the reforms. For the CBA – and for all lawyers – the most interesting challenge is ensuring that, in pursuing this goal, the system still retains traditional safeguards, the right to a fair and adequate inquiry, and access to lawyers when needed.
As for the Hub concept, the CBA is uniquely positioned to comment, and to assist. We have for many years operated a Lawyer Referral Service. In January, for example, we received more than 5,000 calls and referred almost 3,500 of those people to lawyers participating in the program. Another 1,150 people were referred to local organizations that could provide them with other kinds of services, such as Western Canada Access to Justice, Legal Aid, Pro Bono Law of B.C., the Salvation Army, and the Law Society.
In essence, the CBA has been running a type of “hub” for 36 years and we now have the opportunity to expand it as part of the growing movement to ensure that legal services are more quickly and directly connected to those who need them.
Judges speak openly of the challenge of retaining the perception of objectivity of the Bench while ensuring that the rights of the unrepresented litigant are protected. Counsel are challenged in dealing with a self-represented opponent, and their clients are forced to pay the costs of the delay and inefficiency that results. Cases are delayed as the system takes time to deal with people untrained and unprepared for civil law procedures. An enhanced program of prompt referrals to appropriate services, including legal advice and representation, could make a real difference to all concerned.
In the coming months, the profession has the opportunity to work with government, the courts and other justice system partners to try new ways to break down the barriers to public access, to legal services and lawyers. It requires all of us to learn more about the perspectives involved, engage fully in the debate, and play an active part in defining the future of civil justice in B.C. To provide your views, I encourage you to write to the CBA at email@example.com.
This article was published in the April 2007 issue of BarTalk. © 2007 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.