the access to justice crisis in canada

In an environment of increasingly underfunded legal aid programs, the rising costs of retaining a lawyer and the relative shortage of lawyers in remote, rural areas, Canada's access to justice (A2J) crisis has developed. While access to justice may not be viewed as a social justice issue by most Canadians, nor as an issue they have to deal with, in reality, it is a crisis that impacts us all.

According to a recent study, one-third of all Canadians will experience a legal problem over any given 3-year period. This could include things like a divorce involving child support, small business owners trying to earn a living, or hardworking Canadians managing conflict with their employer. Approximately 40% of Canadian marriages will end in divorce and as of 2015, the average estimated cost of a 2-day trial was over $30,000. For low- and middle-income Canadians, costs like this are entirely prohibitive. As such, individuals face the challenging decision of paying exorbitant legal fees, ignoring their legal problems or going it alone as a self-represented litigant. In family law, 80% of Canadians opt to self-represent. As well, when legal problems are left unresolved, they can lead to or exacerbate mental illness, health issues, loss of employment, relationship breakdown, precarious housing, bankruptcy, violence, loss of custody, and homelessness*. In addition to the A2J crisis being an issue that impacts everyone, it especially and most negatively impacts those who are already vulnerable and marginalized including homeless and transient individuals, women, newcomers, LGBTQ populations, and Indigenous communities.

HOW PBSC is responding to the a2j crisis

In an effort to address the A2J crisis in Canada, Pro Bono Students Canada was created in 1996. For over two decades, PBSC has been training law student volunteers to help vulnerable Canadians with their essential legal needs. We partner with community organizations, law firms, and courts and offer high-impact, innovative placements in all areas of the law. For example, within our Family Law Project, in 2016-2017 alone, under the supervision of lawyers, PBSC students assisted approximately 2,100 unrepresented litigants and provided help in drafting an estimated  3,700 court forms. 

Not only are we addressing the A2J crisis of our time but we are contributing to lessening its negative impact in the future by cultivating the next generation of lawyers with a deep commitment to pro bono and social justice. In fact, 85% of our student volunteers consistently report that they plan on providing pro bono services upon graduation. 

*Facts and figures from "Access to Justice: A Social Justice Issue", HuffPost, February 22nd, 2016

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