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Access to Justice: Next year a big one for Action Committee | Thomas Cromwell and Beverley McLachlin

Wednesday, December 19, 2018 @ 2:48 PM | By Thomas Cromwell and Beverley McLachlin


Thomas Cromwell and Beverley McLachlin %>
Thomas Cromwell and Beverley McLachlin
There are big transitions occurring at the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. Former chief justice Beverley McLachlin has this month assumed the chair of the committee which she had convened a decade ago.

The Chief Justice of Canada, Richard Wagner, has agreed to take on the role of honorary chair, carrying on the practice of his predecessor. Justice Elizabeth Corte and Mark Benton are in place as vice-chairs. With the support of the Ontario and British Columbia Law Foundations, the action committee is preparing a transition plan, a strategic plan and a governance plan, all to be presented and discussed at the committee’s annual summit in the early spring of next year. And the work of promoting and reporting on Canada’s Justice Development Goals is in full swing.

I had the opportunity recently to speak with former chief justice McLachlin about her hopes and plans for the committee under her leadership. Here is what she had to say.

Thomas Cromwell: What were your expectations when you convened the action committee in the fall of 2008 and how does the committee’s work since then match those expectations?

Beverley McLachlin: My expectations were to start a conversation about access to justice that involved key players from all parts of the country and from all sectors — the legal profession, governments, courts, NGOs and academe — with a view to examining the roadblocks and coming up with insights on how to remove these barriers and improve people’s access to justice.

The committee’s accomplishments far surpassed my expectations. The broad cross-country conversation I hoped for has been engaged, and many new ideas on how to improve access to justice have emerged.

The level of engagement has far surpassed my expectations. As a result, new innovative ideas have actually been implemented —  ideas that are improving Canadian’s access to justice “on the ground.” When we launched the committee in 2008, I had no idea that it would have produced such a rich dialogue, much less concrete results.

TC: What do you think are the most urgently needed changes to improve access to justice?

BM: I believe the most urgent change we need is a change in public and government attitudes. Instead of viewing justice as a frill or something lawyers and governments are grudgingly obliged to support, we should recognize (1) that access to justice in all its forms is a marker of a just society and (2) that supporting access to justice — providing people with legal help, counselling and more — will pay off in lower prison costs, lower court costs and enhancing the productivity of citizens. It is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.

TC: Where do you hope to see the action committee go and what do you hope that it will accomplish under your leadership?

BM: The passionate women and men who have worked on the committee for the past decade have accomplished much and laid an excellent foundation for addressing the complex challenges that remain in achieving access to justice for everyone. I hope we will be able to establish a permanent umbrella organization to support innovative thinking, ensure that the accomplishments to date are not eroded and move on with new projects that will continue to enhance access to justice.

TC: As a final note, I am delighted that Beverley McLachlin has also agreed to take over this space. Beginning in January, she will be a regular contributor on access to justice. Next year is shaping up to be an exciting new phase of the ongoing efforts to improve access to justice in Canada.

The Honourable Thomas Cromwell served 19 years as an appellate judge and until recently chaired the Chief Justice’s Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. He retired from the Supreme Court of Canada in September of 2016 and is now senior counsel to the national litigation practice at Borden Ladner Gervais.

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 chairs the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters.

Interested in writing for us? To learn more about how you can add your voice to The Lawyer’s Daily, contact Analysis Editor Richard Skinulis at Richard.Skinulis@lexisnexis.ca or call 437- 828-6772.