Taking up the challenge.
By Stephen McPhee
“Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising, which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
At the CBABC Conference in Scottsdale in November 2010, The Honourable Chief Justice Finch was the keynote speaker at the final dinner. He is a very good speaker, and has developed comic timing and a use of humour that is always the envy of everyone in the room. However, after a light roasting of minor legal celebrities – absent and present – The Honourable Chief Justice Finch got serious. His remarks are available on the Court of Appeal website and I encourage everyone to read them. They are a challenge – a challenge to all lawyers to have the courage to take a long, hard look at our responsibilities to our justice system and access to justice in particular.
They say “timing is everything,” and the timing of the remarks is prescient. The Public Commission on Legal Aid is underway and we should see a report early in 2011. This past fall, we had to consider the requests of the Notaries Society to expand notaries’ services. There are well-documented delays in Provincial Court hearings because of a shortage of Provincial Court judges. This January, lawyers in Abbotsford and Chilliwack are withholding criminal duty counsel services to protest chronic underfunding of the criminal justice system. We are also familiarizing ourselves with new rules in Supreme Court – rules that were specifically introduced to make access to that court easier and cheaper.
We heard recently that the request by the Notaries Society has been deferred for consideration until 2012. I believe the successful lobbying work of our members as well as our clear cogent submissions played no small part in the government’s decision to take more time to consider the impact of the proposals and consider the CBABC submission that such a request should be part of an overall assessment of access to justice issues.
Some have remarked that this must all be a heavy burden for me in the first three months of office. I will not deny that it has been very time consuming, but I must add that it has been rewarding and a real privilege to represent our members on these important issues.
I do not expect the demands to slow down in 2011. CBABC has a leadership role to play in addressing the challenges that face our justice system and access to justice in a comprehensive way. Not with “more meetings” that allow the participants to feel good about the time and thought they contribute, but that do not result in change or action, but with a meaningful, practical strategy that includes all justice system stakeholders.
I have already had conversations with some of the key justice system stake-holders and believe all stakeholders – the judiciary, lawyers, LSBC, our CBABC, TLABC, the Ministry of the Attorney General, paralegals, notaries, community advocates, law enforcement, Crown Counsel, Legal Services Society, and other groups such as those in the Coalition for Public Legal Services need to be involved. This is not an exclusive or exhaustive list.
The Honourable Chief Justice Finch has laid down a challenge to our profession. We accept it, and challenge others to join us and examine their own roles and how they can influence, change and shape our justice system. Together we can map out a course of action and follow it; overcome the difficulties and demonstrate the courage to silence the critics.
I look forward to your continuing support and commitment to these endeavours in 2011.
This article was published in the February 2011 issue of BarTalk. © 2011 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.