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Improving Access to Justice in Ontario

Most people do not contemplate hiring a lawyer until they are faced with a pressing legal issue. Yet many fundamental aspects of our lives are a stone’s throw away from involving us in the legal system. For example, a troubled marriage, a car accident, or termination from work. Unfortunately, for many individuals, access to a private lawyer is not an affordable option. This reality, paired with the increasing complexity of our justice system, contributes to the issue of inadequate access to justice for the public. This article examines the ways that access in justice in Ontario has improved over the years.

Improving Affordability Through Unbundling of Legal Services

One major and positive change in recent years is the option of unbundling legal services. These arrangements involve hiring a lawyer for a portion of one’s legal matter, which aims to improve access to justice in Ontario, and make legal services more affordable. Examples of services that a lawyer may provide include:

  • Providing legal advice
  • Conducting legal research
  • Reviewing documents
  • Drafting specific documents
  • Providing representation at certain stages of the legal matter only

Unbundling legal services in this way can make them more affordable, while also receiving the expertise for complicated aspects of one’s case. Although limited scope agreements for services are a great way to increase flexibility, they are not appropriate for all types of cases. Be sure to talk through available options with your prospective lawyer before choosing this option.

Efforts to Increase the Speed of Litigation

The legal system is notorious for being slow-moving. Cases can take years to make it through the legal process in civil courts and some tribunals. Depending on the type of matter, it is possible to request that your matter be expedited, but this is not the norm.

As such, there have been reforms to the rules governing our civil courts to encourage a timely resolution and settlement. For example, in Ontario, certain types of cases are subject to mandatory mediation. That is, cases that are not family law cases and that are litigated in Toronto, Windsor, or Ottawa.

Other types of cases follow a simplified procedure that is relatively faster with fewer pre-trial procedures. The simplified procedure is generally followed where the maximum compensation sought is $200,000.

Creating Tools for Self-Representation

Initiatives to develop tools that assist individuals navigate the legal system have led to government guide documents and free resources from law firms. For example, the Ontario Court of Justice has developed a guide for self-represented litigants in family law trials. The Supreme Court of Canada also provides a guide on how to bring an application to leave to appeal.

Another resource are lawyers known as duty counsel. Duty counsel work at courthouses and are available provide free and confidential legal advice on a matter.

Meanwhile, law firms have created tools for different stages of a proceeding, as well as blogs on discrete issues. Not-for-profit organizations and legal clinics also have a variety of tools available for free on their websites.

However, guides and resources are not a substitute for legal advice. Although you have the option to represent yourself in a legal matter, our legal system is increasingly complex and procedural. As such, access to legal advice or representation remains important.

Remaining Problems

The crisis of access to justice in Ontario is far from resolved. It also impacts different communities in unique ways. For example, the ongoing reduction of funding to Ontario’s legal aid system has left countless individuals within the lowest income ranges even less access to legal advice and professionals. This results in vulnerable members of our society left unable to enforce their rights or having to self-represent.

Nonetheless, the issue of inadequate access to justice in Ontario is on the public radar and we remain hopeful that positive action will continue to be taken as groups continue to advocate for an accessible legal system.

Contact Us

If you are considering self-representing and need a second opinion on your case, our team of experienced workplace lawyers at Achkar Law can help.

Contact us by phone toll-free at +1 (800) 771-7882 or email us at [email protected] and we would be happy to assist.