“I believe that access to justice, being able to use the justice system, is something that every Canadian is entitled to.” – the Right Honourable Beverly McLachlin
The last few years have seen a much stronger call for improved access to justice in Canada. A 2013 report by the Canadian Bar Association highlighted the severity of Canada’s access to justice issues. The report indicated that there has been exponential growth in the numbers of people who self-represent at court – although the majority still say they would prefer to have a lawyer helping them. These individuals generally take more time to resolve their legal matters, contributing to the severe costs and overcrowding in Canadian courts. In response to what they saw as they created their report, the CBA set a number of goals to improve access to justice by 2030. There is a lot of work left to do.
Law students can play a valuable role in ensuring greater access to justice for Canadians. Across the country, law students are able to give legal advice and provide legal representation under the supervision of a lawyer to clients in need. These free services reduce the number of people who are forced to self-represent, which not only means better outcomes but also likely faster ones (in one example, a family law matter that would normally take three days with counsel generally took ten days self-represented). In Alberta, law students participate in Student Legal Services, where they are able to assist clients with summary criminal charges and appear for them in court in criminal, civil and family law. Osgoode Hall Law School’s Community and Legal Aid Services Programme provides services in administrative, criminal, family and immigration law. In fact, as of 2013, every law school in Canada outside of Québec and New Brunswick had what can be referred to as a “representational” legal clinic (and New Brunswick has since expanded the legal clinic services at their faculty).
Unlike every other province in Canada, law students in Quebec, even with supervision, cannot provide legal advice or appear in court for clients. At this time, they are limited to providing legal information. In May of 2017 a bill was put forward to the National Assembly of Quebec that would amend the Act respecting the Barreau du Québec and the Notaries Act to allow law students to give legal advice under the supervision of a practicing lawyer or notary. However, despite overwhelming support from students and law faculties across the province, the National Assembly of Quebec has made no effort to move forward with it. In a letter to Stéphanie Vallée, Quebec’s Minister of Justice, the Deans of all six civil law faculties expressed the need to expand the powers of law students “afin non seulement d’enrichir leur formation, mais aussi de contribuer, dans les faits, à un meilleur accès à la justice pour tous les Québécois.”
The need for this change cannot be overstated. Access to justice is one of the most pressing issues in Canada today. This change, which would bring us in line with every other province in the country, is a vital step to improving access to justice which is, as stated by the Right Honourable Beverly McLachlin, “something that every Canadian is entitled to.”
To read the Canadian Bar Association’s 2013 report on the state of access to justice in Canada, click here.
This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.