Supreme Court judge says access to justice often blocked

Sunny Dhillon, THE CANADIAN PRESS

VANCOUVER, B.C. – Canada’s highest ranking judge says there is a profound disconnect between the ideal of the right to justice and the reality that many people face.

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin of the Supreme Court of Canada said the country’s justice system ranks with the best in the world.

However, she says there are more and more people who are being hindered by barriers such as cost, delay and complex procedures.

“A court system where some ride to justice in a Ferrari while others don’t get out of the garage falls short of the ideal of justice for all,” McLachlin said Wednesday night.

Speaking to a law society forum in Vancouver, she said governments, the courts and lawyers must do more to help those who give up on the system before their cases can even be resolved.

“While some cases may be so large and complex that they require a longer and more complex procedure, smaller, more straightforward disputes should have a simpler, more efficient, cost-effective procedure,” she said.

“What people want and need is fair, effective resolution.”

McLachlin called justice a basic good to which every member of society is entitled.

But for many, the system is far too expensive and litigants are forced to try and represent themselves.

“No doubt, some litigants armed with access to the Internet and emboldened by watching ‘Judge Judy,’ think they can do a good job on their own.”

But self-represented litigants, McLachlin said, do not fare as well as litigants who are represented by lawyers and often become bogged down by complex procedures and delays.

McLachlin said efforts to solve access issues are beginning to be seen, as departments of justice and attorney generals across the country review and revise court procedures.

Courts and judges are promoting efficient and early dispute resolution, while lawyers are “unbundling” legal services and aiding litigants with specific elements of their case.

Increased mediation and arbitration, further development of pro bono services and the creation of hubs where people can obtain information about court procedures are also elements McLachlin said are vital to improving access to justice.

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