Hot topic: access to justice

Access to justice is a topic being discussed by many in the legal community throughout Canada, but what does it mean? And furthermore, why is it important?

As a Canadian, you have specific rights pertaining to your ability to access our justice system. However, more and more Canadians are having difficulty exercising these rights due to barriers such as: costs, delays, long trials, and complex procedures, among other things.

Many in the legal community believe the justice system is failing to provide service that is accessible, responsible, and citizen-focused.

In fact, these are the conclusions of an Action Committee on Access to Justice, established in 2008. The committee published its findings in a report in 2013.

The report identified major access gaps, including the fact that:

– 12 million Canadians experience at least one legal problem in a given three-year period, with few resources available to solve them;

– Members of poor and vulnerable groups are particularly prone to legal problems and they also experience more legal problems than higher-income earners and more secure groups; and

– Legal problems have significant social and economic costs.

So what does this mean for New Brunswickers?

We can see these gaps first-hand in New Brunswick.

The provincial government recently announced the closures of courthouses in St. Stephen, Grand Manan, Sussex, and Grand Falls – creating a new barrier for New Brunswickers living in these areas, who are unable travel to access the justice system.

The Law Society of New Brunswick and the Canadian Bar Association – New Brunswick Branch (CBA-NB) have released a joint statement outlining the anticipated implications and challenges of these closures, including:

– Higher legal fees for litigants;

– Logistical challenges associated with getting to and from court proceedings; and

– Adverse cost consequences including staffing, professional services, and policing costs.

Members of the Charlotte County bar have challenged the Province’s decision to close these courthouses, and the matter is now before the courts.

The Law Society of New Brunswick is studying this issue carefully and expects to have a report in 2016, with recommendations as to how we can and should address these very complex issues.

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