The CBA’s Envisioning Equal Justice Summit, April 25-27, brings access to justice to the fore

  • April 22, 2013

VANCOUVER – The chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s (CBA) Envisioning Equal Justice Summit, taking place April 25-27 in Vancouver, believes the time is right for a renewed focus and a “big collaborative push” toward substantial and sustainable reform on access to justice.

“It’s a time to breathe some fresh air into a system that for many Canadians has become dysfunctional,” says Dr. Melina Buckley, chair of both the Summit and the CBA’s Access to Justice Committee. “Our objective is to write and tell a new story about equal access to justice that changes the stale conversation, increases public engagement and enhances national strategic coordination.”

The CBA’s Envisioning Equal Justice Summit will bring together lawyers, judges, paralegals, legal aid and pro bono providers and a host of other stakeholders to focus squarely on four barriers that stand in the way of equal justice:

  • lack of political profile
  • inadequate coordination and framework for reform
  • absence of mechanisms to measure change
  • gaps in knowledge as to what can improve access to justice

In many ways the summit represents the apex of Dr. Buckley’s goals. A focus on creating an equal, inclusive justice system has been a consistent objective in her 23 years as a lawyer. “I went to law school with a clear goal of seeing law as a tool to increase social justice both in Canada and internationally,” says Dr. Buckley.

Called to the Bar in Ontario and British Columbia, Dr. Buckley holds a Ph.D. in law from the University of British Columbia. She has served as co-counsel in numerous public interest litigation cases and has directed several national research projects. She has also worked internationally, serving as a senior adviser on a comprehensive justice reform project in Jamaica, as an advisor on the constitutional reform process in Nepal, and is currently assisting on a public interest litigation case in Kenya. She has written several legal policy reports and is a published author on legal aid, access to justice, equality rights, constitutional law, dispute resolution, and international human rights law. 

Her career has focused on equality rights both in Canada and internationally, on justice reform and, in her words, “most importantly on legal aid, which is the social program that we developed as a society to embody our commitment to equal justice.”

“Legal aid is a social program that is so tattered and torn as to be unrecognizable in most parts of Canada.  It is devastating that the more we have advocated for improved services, the further from this goal we have come,” says Dr. Buckley.

Despite the chronic lack of funding and political will of the past two decades, Dr. Buckley believes that change is imminent. A long distance runner, she has found there is always energy for one last push – especially if there is a glimpse or vision of the finish line.

“I believe there is a growing consensus on the direction we need to be moving to make it to the finish line, to make some progress that will be of material benefit to increasing access to justice, particularly for the more disadvantaged members of our communities.”

To date, the CBA has released five discussion papers, which will be topics of discussion at the Summit:

The Envisioning Equal Justice Summit takes place at the Renaissance Harbourside Hotel in Vancouver, and is open to accredited media.  Accreditation may be obtained by contacting Hannah Bernstein

The Canadian Bar Association is dedicated to support for the rule of law, and improvement in the law and the administration of justice. Some 37,000 lawyers, law teachers, and law students from across Canada are members.

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