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Access to Justice: A fond farewell

This is my last column as chair of the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters.

PHOTO: Stock photo

Beverley McLachlin %>
Beverley McLachlin

This is my last column as chair of the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. When I started the Action Committee in 2008 during my tenure as chief justice, I did so as a means of bringing attention to the crisis in access to justice in Canada. My hope was that a few like-minded and well-placed individuals in the justice system could get together to spur action.

What a privilege it has been to watch it take off from there! The Action Committee today has volunteer members from over 65 justice and equity-seeking organizations and a network of hundreds more across Canada. The committee’s progress in meeting its mandate by co-ordinating national efforts and supporting provincial and local work has been extraordinary. The Justice Development Goals, our framework for discussing and measuring access to justice, is world class and an internationally lauded model.

Here are some of the significant achievements:

  • Publication of the Roadmap for Change.
  • Annual Progress Report on the Justice Development Goals.
  • Two public relations campaigns.
  • Monthly A2J newsletter.
  • Annual Communities of Practice.
  • Annual Events — in person and online — bringing justice sector leaders together for A2J.
  • Regional and National Colloquia on critical A2J issues.

For me, the most rewarding work of the Action Committee is in the conversations it sparks. Across the country, across the justice system and with people experiencing life’s legal realities. I have personally enjoyed having those conversations and, in particular, supporting the creative and dedicated work of justice workers, thinkers and leaders. I encourage all of you to join the Action Committee’s conversations to build your own network, meet your colleagues working in A2J and get fresh ideas and support for your work.

I particularly encourage this because, of course, our work on access to justice is not done. We have critical challenges ahead to ensure that we connect people who need justice with the resources that can help them, that our courts are ready and capable of responding to the backlog left from COVID-19, and, the overarching goal, to ensuring that our justice system meets all the challenges of the future.

As those of you who have followed this column will know, I am in favour of solutions that will directly advance our response to these challenges and that put people in the centre of the response. I have long advocated for hubs — a “one-stop shop” that get people to the help they need as directly as possible, including at the courthouse. I am also in favour of advancing procedural reform and digital justice wherever it can add to the services that support greater access to courts, tribunals and all available means of supporting and resolving life’s legal problems.

I am pleased that the chief justice has asked Justice Andromache Karakatsanis of the Supreme Court of Canada to be the next chair of the Action Committee. I am excited by her perspective on access to justice and her enthusiasm to work collaboratively on these issues. I know that the national co-ordination of our efforts is in good hands with Andromache as chair.

The work of the Action Committee is critical to our progress on access to justice in Canada and I intend to support the work as its champion, as I hope you all will.

The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin served as chief justice of Canada from 2000 to mid-December 2017. She now works as an arbitrator and mediator in Canada and internationally and also sits as a justice of Singapore’s International Commercial Court and the Hong Kong Final Court of Appeal. She is the outgoing chair of the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters.


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