Preventing Problems

Facilitating everyday justice with prevention and early intervention

Contrary to what people often think, few problems are dealt with in the formal justice system. Knowing this, we need to take a much broader view of access to justice. Consider why it makes more sense to build a fence at the top of a cliff, rather than investing only in sending ambulances to the bottom. Facilitating everyday justice requires three main changes. We need to: recognize that there are many paths to justice, find ways to deal with a larger number of legal problems through a larger range of mechanisms, and shift our attention “far upstream from the courts” by investing in timely intervention and preventative services.

This section is divided into three parts

  • Law as a life skill: improving legal capability and taking legal health seriously
  • Triage and referral: developing triage and referral systems that allow people to navigate paths to justice
  • Technology and innovation: taking active steps to ensure that technology is well used to facilitate equal, inclusive justice

Law as a Life Skill

Law should be a life skill, with opportunities for all to develop and improve legal capabilities at various stages in their lives, ideally well before a legal problem arises. Law touches on every aspect of a person’s life, yet most people know little about it. Law is rarely integrated into public school education and people generally do not have a good understanding of the legal system, the different levels of government in Canada, and the various laws that apply to them in a particular situation. Regrettably, too much of their information comes from television and movies, which are most often from other countries and which distort the law to suit the plot.

People who better understand the law:

  • Know where to find reliable information
  • Distinguish between facts and their emotions
  • Understand their interests and the interests of others
  • Keep records
  • Consider different solutions
  • know how to better respond to a situation as it unfolds
  • Know where and when to get help

For many years, public legal education and information programs, law societies, and government departments have been offering information resources on the most common legal issues and on specific laws. Information may be in a pamphlet, a video, a dial-a-law service, on a website, over the phone, and/or offered at workshops. This is an important contribution to legal literacy. For ideas on a preventative approach to practicing law generally, see the CBA’s preventative legal health tools. It’s easy to promote these ideas. You can use “Making the Case to your Colleagues” to raise awareness within the profession. The CBA has made it easy to reach out to members of your community – use materials for either young or adult audiences, that offer a step by step approach to organizing and delivering an information session. Public legal education should not be framed as a complete answer to the public need, but it is a valuable starting point to assist people to connect to other resources.

Legal Health Checks

To help build the public’s legal capabilities, the CBA has developed legal health checks. The goal is to encourage people to recognize legal problems early, and take action when problems are identified to avoid them escalating. For lawyers, these materials are a way to start conversations with people about the law, how to get legal help and how to work effectively with a lawyer. The CBA has several ideas on how to spread the word and encourage use of the legal health checks.

The CBA has also developed a legal health questionnaire that lawyers can use as part of client intake. It will give a broader perspective on the client’s situation and what other issues may need to be addressed.

Expanding the idea of legal health checks to a community level could involve having a community group take on the task of informing residents of legal issues specific to the area. For example, in an area with many rental units, the group could organize tenant information sessions and provide materials on landlord-tenant laws.

The idea of legal health checks is to contribute more proactively to preventing legal issues from occurring or escalating. Preventive health activities (such as encouraging a well-balanced diet and exercise) are a vital part of health care, perhaps it is time to see the relevance to law and access to justice.

Triage and Referral

Various studies have documented the lack of an overarching plan for how people can access the justice system. Compounding the potential confusion from many different access points may be the addition of new programs funded to meet a need without necessarily being integrated with existing services or the need to rethink an existing program. What was there last time might not be the best answer now.

Consider three approaches:

  • Provide a single point of contact, such as a justice access center
  • Develop referral services that have a “no wrong number, no wrong door” commitment
  • Work with trusted intermediaries to place services in the path of people who because of their social situation or geography may not be able to access established entry points.

A “warm” (also called “no wrong number, no wrong door”) referral makes sure that when a person is passed on to another contact point the referring agency takes responsibility to ensure the connection is successful. This would help to alleviate feelings of frustration and of getting the run-around when referrals don’t work out as expected.

Ideally, a person with a legal problem would be directed to the best service on first contact and the service would help resolve the issue. Going to court is the last resort and out of reach for many people, and recognizing that reality by front-end loading the justice system would help to move toward equal justice. By keeping a list of local and online resources handy and up to date, you can be ready when asked to help – CBA has a list by jurisdiction to get you started.

Technology and Innovation

Technology can:

  • automate processes, making them more efficient and accessible
  • create new pathways to justice
  • offer direct access to justice services, such as videoconferencing and online dispute resolution.

Technology offers the hope of particularly improving access to justice for people from indigenous communities, people with disabilities, people from various cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and people in low socio-economic situations by offering more ways to get information and reach trained professionals. The CBA has tools to help find reliable online information about your legal issues, and taking next steps to encourage careful use of online resources.

It can however have the opposite effect by increasing barriers and making it more difficult for people, for example, those with low literacy skills or limited experience with or access to computers, to use services provided through technology innovations.

The Canadian justice system has been slow to make use of technology for a variety of reasons. There are issues of equality of access, confidentiality, privacy, identity security, record-keeping and the storage of information, and the inevitable question of financial resources.

Any technology innovation must consider all system users and their needs and capacities. Many people, especially the most vulnerable, will need “human help” in tailoring information and tools to their own problems and to answers to their questions. Innovation is not a step in the right direction if it means abandoning those most in need of help.

Learn More

Triage and referral

Public legal education

Connecting resources

Platforms to compile resources