In a community near you.
By Stephen McPhee
“If you have significant segments of the population that feel that the legal system is not really there for them, that is going to play out in other ways in our communities.” –Extract from an article “Open Access” by Lucianna Ciccocioppo in the University of Toronto Faculty of Law publication “Nexus”
As I write this column, my first as CBABC President, I have some time to reflect on the wide-ranging interest and support we have received for the Public Commission. It is early summer, and in the first week after our first press release, I gave eight radio interviews.
Callers in to the shows have shared compelling, heartrending stories of how they have not been able to get the resources they have needed. At the time, I encouraged them to make submissions on the website (www.publiccommission.org), and to tell us what they think the system should look like.
By the time you read this, Commissioner Len Doust, QC will have the Commission well in hand and the hearings will be underway across our province. Between now and then, a tremendous amount of work will have been done by the Steering Committee, Education Sub-committee, the Commissioner and his Commission Co-ordinator as well as our administrative support at the Branch office and innumerable volunteers.
This initiative – truly a joint and wide-ranging initiative – of our Branch, the Law Society of British Columbia, the Law Foundation of B.C., the B.C. Crown Counsel Association and the Vancouver and Victoria Bar Associations, has made me proud to be a lawyer and member of the CBA.
When our Provincial Council spoke with one voice and told us to do this, regardless if we found other funding partners, I was encouraged by their generosity to release funds from our reserves, and by the strength of the conviction of each of the speakers who spoke that day.
I have been asked “why” by many in the last few days. For many years, lawyers have carried the burden of trying to fix a system that belongs to the public. The solution needs to come from the public, but we have the obligation as stewards of the justice system to provide them with the structure and tools to design a system that works for them.
This Commission is also an opportunity to educate. Not just to educate British Columbians about our justice system, but to educate lawyers, legal aid service providers, funders and custodians on what kind of legal aid system British Columbians want to see as part of their justice system.
Support for the Commission has come from far and wide, and not just from our Steering Committee members. We have received support from the Attorney General, our Judiciary, the Legal Services Society, the Coalition for Public Legal Services, our Local and County Bars and MLAs and MPs in the regions we are holding our hearings.
What will be the outcome? I know it will be a better Legal Aid system. I also know that we will all – lawyers and non-lawyers alike be better informed and educated about the challenges we face, and the solutions we need to find to deal with those challenges.
We will hear stories of personal hardship, and, hopefully personal accomplishment. I know we will hear how lawyers continue to devote volunteer time and energy throughout their communities and how not-for-profit organizations have similarly stepped in to help those who cannot navigate our legal system on their own.
In the end, we will have something to start the next phase of this journey. A roadmap that will guide us in implementing recommendations and changes. That journey and those challenges are ones that I am excited to undertake with you in the coming year.
This article was published in the October 2010 issue of BarTalk. © 2010 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.