Access to Justice
Access Committee to improve justice system

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The Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society is pleased to participate in the Access to Justice Co-ordinating Committee (A2JCC), a new collaborative effort among leaders in the province’s justice and legal community.

Justice Minister Lena Metlege Diab and the Hon. Chief Justice Michael MacDonald will lead the committee in its efforts to make Nova Scotia's family, civil and criminal court systems more efficient and effective, less costly and easier to navigate. Review the group’s Terms of Reference at novascotia.ca/just/resources.asp.

"We want Nova Scotians to continue to believe in their justice system and know that it will protect and support them when they need it," Minister Diab said in the June 12 announcement. "The system isn't perfect and these changes won't happen overnight. But we are committed to working together to make our system better and to put people first, every step of the way."

The seven-member committee also includes:

  • President of the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society (currently Tilly Pillay QC);
  • Robyn L. Elliott QC, President of the Canadian Bar Association, Nova Scotia Branch;
  • Kim Brooks, Dean of the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University; 
  • Karen Hudson, Executive Director, Nova Scotia Legal Aid Commission; 
  • Rev. Dr. Linda Yates, Public Representative.

Says Mr. Gallant: “All of us in the justice system have a role to play in improving access to justice. The Coordinating Committee is an important way that we will work together to make a difference for Nova Scotians who need legal services and information.”

Government and other justice partners are already making a number of improvements, adds Chief Justice MacDonald, Chief Justice of Nova Scotia: "As a committee, we will work to identify and promote the great work that is already being done, and introduce new initiatives. The intent is to provide leadership so that all initiatives are as successful as possible."

Better resources are becoming available online, including the Family Law Nova Scotia website at nsfamilylaw.ca, and several new pro bono initiatives aim to fill gaps in legal services, such as Access Legal Help NS at www.legalinfo.org. Efforts are also being made to get criminal cases moving through the system more quickly. Nova Scotia now has two specialty courts – mental health and domestic violence – and a court-monitored drug treatment program, which all provide access to supports and services to make offenders less likely to harm others and themselves in future.

In its Strategic Framework, the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society prioritizes enhancing access to legal services and the justice system for all Nova Scotians. Find the Society’s Access to Justice Action Plan at nsbs.org/enhance-access.

The new Access to Justice Co-ordinating Committee “is an important step toward enabling equal justice for Nova Scotians,” says the Rev. Dr. Yates. “Justice, at its best, is holistic – taking into consideration the mental, physical and spiritual needs of individuals, families and society. A robust democracy depends on a fair and independent justice system that all citizens can have confidence in. Timely and equitable access to this system is critical.”

The committee will act on recommendations outlined in Access to Civil & Family Justice: A Roadmap for Change, released in October by the National Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. Improving access to justice is the biggest issue facing Canada's legal system, that group’s Chair, the Hon. Justice Thomas A. Cromwell of the Supreme Court of Canada, stressed when he spoke to justice leaders in Nova Scotia last fall. (Hear his Nov. 1 interview with Mr. Gallant on CBC Information Morning.)  

The Roadmap for Change report states that almost 12 million Canadians will face at least one legal problem in any given three years. Family law alone affects millions of people, usually during stressful times. This requires a system that operates in plain language, is easy to navigate and gives people options that are less costly, and most appropriate to their needs.

The new A2JCC committee will also consider the Canadian Bar Association's report, Reaching Equal Justice: An Invitation to Envision and Act, released in November. One of its key recommendations is “to find ways to build ongoing collaboration and coordination, to enable those who are committed to equal justice to work together more effectively and productively,” notes Ms. Elliott of CBA-NS.