The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Yves Faguy


Envisioning equal justice

By Yves Faguy April 25, 2013 25 April 2013

Today begins the Envisioning Equal Justice Summit in Vancouver, which we'll be covering. You'll find the agenda here. The event, organized by the CBA’s Access to Justice Committee, is bringing together stakeholders in our justice system from across Canada. They’ll be looking carefully at problems among low- and middle-income Canadians and marginalized communities in gaining access to legal services and advice. Melina Buckley, the chair of the committee, is heading that initiative. Here she is explaining how this initiative marks a departure from past efforts at solving an issue that can at times seem insoluble:

Over the course of the next couple of days and in the months to come, you will hear plenty more about the initiative. Hopefully the event will help us better understand the needs of our justice system's stakeholders and guide the CBA in its future advocacy initiatives on the access to justice front.

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Criminal law

Why we don't have Miranda rights in Canada

By Yves Faguy April 22, 2013 22 April 2013

There was plenty of debate over the weekend about whether or not Dzhokkhar Tsarnaev should be read his Miranda rights. The Dish has a pretty complete roundup of the different views. And interestingly a FiveThirtyEight poll shows a small majority of Americans in favour of reading him his rights. In Canada, of course, we have our own rights protected under the Charter. Section 10(b) states that, “everyone has the right on arrest or detention to retain and instruct counsel without delay and to be informed of that right.” But Canadians might be surprised to learn that in a 2010 decision the Supreme Court rejected the idea of transplanting wholesale the US Miranda rule which ensures ”the right to have counsel present at the interrogation,” deemed “indispensable to the protection of the Fifth amendment privilege.” Indeed the SCC found, by a slim margin, that the Charter does not mandate the presence of a lawyer throughout a custodial interrogation for a number of reasons (UPDATE: hat tip  @APribetic):

… The scope of s. 10(b) of the Charter must be defined by reference to its language; the right to silence; the common law confessions rule; and the public interest in effective law enforcement in the Canadian context. Adopting procedural protections from other jurisdictions in a piecemeal fashion risks upsetting the balance that has been struck by Canadian courts and legislatures.

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Toward national standards for publicly-funded legal services

By Yves Faguy April 22, 2013 22 April 2013

In this discussion paper, the CBA’s Standing Committee on Access to Justice makes the case that national standards for publicly-funded legal services in Canada are “non-existent” and ought to be re-introduced:

Why national standards? In the context of this discussion paper, national standards are primarily seen as potentially enhancing equal access to justice by providing a principled framework to counterbalance the sole focus on reducing expenditure as the driver of legal aid reforms. It is rare today for legal aid standards to be guaranteed through legislation, as governments have preferred more flexible arrangements in which the availability of legal aid can be constantly shifting.

That being said:

National standards do not mean uniformity in program delivery or accountability mechanisms in all provinces and territories. Standards are framed at a general level, leaving scope for local priority setting and innovation in each region. This is the case, for example, under the Canada Health Act. Historically, this has been a particular concern for Quebec and has been accommodated by establishing province-specific programs. National standards for legal aid can “be developed and enforced in ways that respects Canada’s national complexity” while at the same time serving the shared commitment to equal justice and constitutional and international rights obligations.

This discussion paper reviews four approaches to developing national standards: 1) a rights-based approach; 2) an “urgent legal needs” approach; 3) the US context-based right to counsel research and initiatives and the Australian Commonwealth approach.

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Legal aid reform and the realities of poverty

By Yves Faguy April 18, 2013 18 April 2013

First, a passage that stands out from the CBA’s Envisioning Equal Justice Discussion Paper, Underexplored Alternatives for the Middle Class:

People living in poverty tend to experience more and different kinds of legal problems with more serious consequences than those with higher incomes. The poor are not just the middle class without money; they tend to be exposed to the sharp edges of the law in a way the middle class generally are not. Studies of civil legal needs have found that poverty has a profound impact on legal needs, and that people living in poverty tend to be “enveloped by the law.”

People living in poverty are also likely to confront legal issues that threaten very basic needs, for example, fighting eviction from public housing that might result in homelessness, trying to resolve bureaucratic problems with government benefits that represent the sole source of household income, and defending themselves against state action, by police, immigration officials or child protection agencies. These problems are often compounding, one worsens another.

I quote this passage because this week the CBA released a new discussion paper on future directions for legal aid delivery, which we will look at more closely in the coming days. For now we note that, while the paper advocates on behalf of legal aid innovations, it also argues forcefully in favour of taking into account “the realities of the people the innovations are intended to benefit”:

Legal aid innovations that account for these realities will be most successful at helping people living in poverty. Innovations that fail to do so maybe less than useful for the very populations they are intended to help. For example, providing written self-help materials to people with literacy challenges might be more likely to frustrate than to assist, unless perhaps accompanied by in-person assistance to explain the materials in light of the individual’s particular situation.

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When the executive decides on the judiciary's budget

By Yves Faguy April 12, 2013 12 April 2013

Mediation, ADR, and unbundling of legal services have clearly emerged in recent years as a promising (if albeit partial) solutions to improving access to an underfunded justice system. At the same time there is a recognition, in the legal community, that emphasis on these kinds of innovations must not detract from the fact that the legal system nevertheless remains underfunded. Antoine Leduc, who we interviewed recently, raises an important point about the politics of financing our justice system.

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