Conference breaks down barriers in civil justice system

Leaders from across the country will be tackling how to overcome barriers facing the civil justice system at a national conference marking the 10th anniversary of the Canadian Bar Association Task Force Report on the Systems of Civil Justice.

The Montreal conference from April 30 to May 2 called, "Into the Future," features more than 280 participants from government, the courts, the judiciary and the Bar. The discussion will focus on a variety of key issues in civil justice reform such as keeping litigation costs in check, meeting public expectations and the roles of lawyers in managing litigation. The conference also includes a session on communication within the civil justice system and the public, led by principal investigator Diana Lowe, executive director of the Canadian Forum of Civil Justice, an independent institution housed in the Faculty of Law at the University of Alberta.

Research grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the Alberta Law Foundation enabled the creation of a groundbreaking collaborative research alliance called the Civil Justice System and the Public (CJSP)--made up of academics and representatives of all of the key stakeholders involved in the administration of justice in Canada. It is the first nation-wide, evidence-based study of the state of communication between the civil justice system and the public.

The partnership interviewed more than 300 people across the country--those working within the system as well as litigants and witnesses in different types of civil and family justice processes at various court levels.

Earlier studies identified costs of civil litigation, growing delay in litigation, lack of public knowledge about the civil justice system and complex laws and procedures as reasons for mounting dissatisfaction among users. These problems were also noted to have a particularly negative impact on cultural and linguistic minority communities, poor or disabled persons, women and Aboriginal Canadians.

One of the most common themes researchers heard was that the participants did not understand what was happening in their cases. One litigant talked about listening to the judge hand down a custody order and not understanding what the decision meant. Another expressed frustration at not knowing what to expect throughout the process. A second key point was that the public wants to avoid going to court and is looking for litigation alternatives. Participants also found the civil justice system alienating and intimidating. One applicant in a family matter said that a "certain sense of respect for the humanity of people involved in the whole situation is just knocked out the window."

"We're seeing all kinds of changes already being made as a result of this project," said Lowe, who will present the findings from the final report May 2 at the conference. "Because this was such a collaborative project and we brought together all the key players in the justice community, we already had the commitment to make these improvements."

Members of the CJSP research team continue to be involved in helping to institute some change across the country. For example, they are working with the British Columbia Supreme Court Self-Help Information Centre Pilot Project to help improve communication between the civil justice system and the public. They are also participating in the Alberta Justice Self-Represented Litigants Advisory Committee to help meet the needs of self-represented or unrepresented litigants.

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Visit the conference website here: http://www.cfcj-fcjc.org/IntoTheFuture-VersLeFutur/

For more information, please call:
Phoebe Dey, Public Affairs
University of Alberta (780)492-0437

Diana Lowe, Canadian Forum of Civil Justice
Cell phone (780) 265-6086


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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