Access to Justice Co-ordinating Committee
In addition to the Co-chairs, Chief Justice Michael MacDonald and Justice Minister Lena Metlege Diab, the committee includes:
- René Gallant, president of the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society
- Robyn Elliott, president of the Canadian Bar Association, Nova Scotia Branch
- Kim Brooks, dean of Dalhousie University's Schulich School of Law
- Karen Hudson, executive director of Nova Scotia Legal Aid
- Rev. Dr. Linda Yates, public representative
"As a committee, we will work to identify and promote the great work that is already being done, and introduce new initiatives," said Chief Justice MacDonald. "The intent is to provide leadership so that all initiatives are as successful as possible."
Minister Metlege Diab said "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. 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 committee will act on recommendations outlined in reports released last year by the National Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters and the Canadian Bar Association.
In the National Action Committee's report, A Roadmap for Change, the chair of the committee and Supreme Court of Canada Justice Thomas Cromwell stressed that improving access to justice is the biggest issue facing Canada's legal system.
The report points out 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.
A number of groups and organizations in Nova Scotia's justice system are already making improvements to help families with legal problems. More resources are now available online, including the NOVA SCOTIA FAMILY LAW WEBSITE >> There are also several new pro bono (free) initiatives to fill gaps in legal services available to low-income Nova Scotians. One is offered by the Legal Informaiton Society of Nova Scotia;
ACCESS LEGAL HELP NS >>. The goal of such initiatives is to get families more information and support - up front - so they get access to the services they need before they ever go to court.
Work is also underway to get criminal cases moving through the justice system more efficiently. There are projects being developed to help people better represent themselves in civil matters by giving them access to free legal services.
Nova Scotia also now has two specialty courts, mental health and domestic violence, and a court-monitored drug treatment program. These courts hold people accountable for their actions but also provide access to supports and services to make them less likely to harm others and themselves in future.
These are the kinds of initiatives and projects the new Access To Justice Co-ordinating Committee hopes to concentrate on while, at the same time, generating its own ideas and encouraging others to do the same.