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The views and opinions expressed in the NSRLP Blog are those of the author.


What Do the Cosby Mistrial, Climate Change Denial, and Perceptions of SRLs Have in Common?

A Pennsylvania jury has failed to reach the necessary unanimous verdict in the prosecution of Bill Cosby for sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, leading the judge to declare a mistrial. My first reaction to this news, which I woke up to on Saturday morning was, predictably, anger. This was the only one of 33 similar fact complaints against Mr. Cosby that could be prosecuted because of the Statute of Limitations (which I am proud to say Ontario repealed in 2016 for [...]

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Law Convocation 2017: Be Smart, Be Idealistic, & Be Bold

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog will know that I feel some despair about the state of legal education – that is, despair about the resilience of the archaic system norms, not my wonderful colleagues – and certainly not our law students. Over the past few weeks many law schools, including my own, have held Convocation for their graduating class. Assuming I shall never be invited to be a Convocation speaker (I think a fairly safe bet), [...]

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A Coach in Your Corner: Promoting Legal Coaching in Family Law

This week’s guest blogger is our 2017 Law Foundation Research Fellow, Nikki Gershbain. Nikki is the National Director of Pro Bono Students Canada, an organization that runs law student pro bono programs across Canada. A former family lawyer at Epstein Cole LLP, Nikki has a long history of working on Access to Justice, including serving on the Law Society’s Equity Advisory Group and co-directing the University of Toronto’s Middle-Income Access to Justice initiative. In January, I took a leave [...]

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Yes, We Can (With Reservations) – But No, They Can’t

As the clock ticks down on the deadline for comments on the Bonkalo recommendations (May 15), we are getting some clear signals of the legal establishment’s response. Yes, We Can Justice Bonkalo’s endorsement of unbundled legal services and legal coaching has been met with some questions and continued reservations, but a good degree of openness by the Family Bar. The Family Bar appears to have set aside their entrenched resistance to anything other than full representation. In the weeks since the publication [...]

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We Need to Help Family Litigants – Now

When the Bonkalo Report was released in February, I felt optimistic that its central recommendation – to allow licensed, trained paralegals to work on some types of family files – would be met with perhaps resignation but also broad acceptance by the Family Bar, given the enormous numbers of family litigants who are without any type of legal assistance whatsoever. No one – not even perennially optimistic me! – imagined that the Family Bar would immediately embrace every detail of [...]

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“This Case is About A2J – and About Insiders and Outsiders”

The Supreme Court of Canada’s unanimous decision in Pintea v Johns (heard April 18, 2017) was delivered from the bench by Justice Karakatsanis. But even before a decision was rendered, it was very apparent that the Court took seriously the challenges that SRL’s face, and the need to adjust and adapt to ensure that they have Access to Justice. Here I offer a brief summary that I hope conveys the tone and flavor of the hearing (which I attended along [...]

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Why I Work With Julie and the National Self-Represented Litigants Project

This week’s guest blog is written by Cynthia Eagan, who has worked with the NSRLP since 2012. Cynthia is a former librarian in the Detroit Public Library system, a literacy expert, and is presently retraining to be a massage therapist. In her blog, Cynthia explains why she feels a connection to self-represented litigants, and how she was drawn to work with NSRLP. Way back when I was in library school, there was a legal skirmish between California’s Nolo Press and [...]

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Case Law Research is like Cheesecake

This week’s guest blog is written by Cynthia Freitag, a Law Clerk and an active member of the Toronto chapter of the National Self-Represented Litigants Network (NSSN). As a self-represented litigant (SRL) you are, in fact, your own lawyer. This means you need to learn how a lawyer carries out legal research, what they research, and why they research, in order to represent yourself the best way you can. This means learning about case law. When lawyers prepare for trial they [...]

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Why Family Lawyers Should Consider Getting Behind the Bonkalo Recommendations

Justice Bonkalo’s long-anticipated report and recommendations on the future of family legal services in Ontario has provoked an outpouring of reaction from the Family Bar. Most of the response has been negative, expressing reservations, alarm and even fear. We should not be surprised by this, given the tenor of the submissions made by a number of leading family law organizations to Justice Bonkalo before she finalized her Report. The opposing voices that defend the status quo – and reject Bonkalo’s [...]

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Part Two: Making it Real – A Legal Education in the Public Interest

Part One of this blog (The End of a Love Affair? Why I Despair About Legal Education) was pretty bleak. It articulated my frustrations with the disconnect between legal education and the realities of legal practice and client service, and our slow steps towards meaningful change. It also clearly resonated with many of you whom I heard from last week. In that earlier piece, I highlighted three fundamental disconnects: Law school classes rarely describe or simulate the work that lawyers actually do. [...]

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The End of a Love Affair? Why I Despair About Legal Education

(Part 2 of this blog is “Making it Real: A Legal Education in the Public Interest”) When I became a law professor more than thirty years ago, I was convinced that legal education was a powerful tool to shape legal practice in the future by instilling a client-focused philosophy, and the skills and ethics that would foster this. Intoxicated by the possibilities of using education to change the adversarial culture of legal practice, I was a law school junkie – dropping [...]

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New Data on SRLs: The Spectacular Rise of the Savvy Self-Represented Litigant

This week we published our latest SRL Intake Report, collating and analyzing the information we received from 73 self-reps who completed the Intake Form posted on the NSRLP website between April 2015 and December 2016. Although the SRLs who have the patience and time to complete the Intake Form (thank you!) comprise a fraction of those who reach out to the Project annually, we have been tracking their encounters with the justice system and sharing it with both the legal [...]

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2017 Could be the Year of the Paralegal – Or, Will #AltFacts Prevail?

I once memorably shared a stage at a public meeting organized by the Ottawa Writer’s Festival on the Access to Justice crisis with the (then) Treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada. It was a Saturday afternoon, and the hall was packed. After his presentation – in which he sought to play down the A2J crisis (“it’s not really a crisis”), the Treasurer was asked by an audience member why the Society did not permit paralegals (whom the Society [...]

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Robin Camp Latest: Bogus Arguments about what the Public Thinks about His Removal from the Bench (Without Consulting any Actual Members of the Public)

Robin Camp is a federal court judge who, following a series of offensive remarks made in a sexual assault trial, was the subject of a complaint to the Canadian Judicial Council (CJC) and a subsequent inquiry. In November, the CJC recommended his removal from the Bench. In their lengthy brief submitted on January 6th asking, once again (having been rejected in December) for an opportunity to make further (to the week-long hearing in September) oral submissions, Robin Camp’s three lawyers [...]

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Working With, Not Against the Public: A New Year Manifesto for the NSRLP

As 2016 drew to a close, we heard a lot of angst and analysis about the seismic events of the year. And yes – this was going on in my household too. I had looked on in disbelief as my home country voted in June to leave the European Union – falling prey to deeply rooted fears of immigrants and apparent nostalgia for the days of Empire. Then in November we watched as the U.S. – where I have family, [...]

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Without a Litigation Representative, Brain-Damaged Plaintiff Forced to Represent Herself by Court that Alters Her Competency Designation

One of the stories that haunted me from the 2013 National Study was told me by a woman (“Fiona”) who, following a traumatic brain injury sustained in a motor vehicle accident that ended her career, was trying to recover spousal support arrears. She had had a lawyer, but like many of the SRLs in the study, had run out of funds to continue. Fiona explained to the settlement conference judge that as a person with a brain injury, she [...]

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Self-Represented Litigants Stumble Finding Answers to Procedural Questions: But a Solution is within Reach

This week’s blog is written by Heather Hui-Litwin, a long-time friend of NSRLP, former SRL and co-founder of the Self-Rep Navigators group in Toronto (www.limitedscoperetainers.ca). Heather recounts her experience trying to track down procedural information for a SRL she is assisting. The 2013 Study, and our continued daily contact with SRLs at the NSRLP, demonstrates how much SRLs worry and stress about navigating court procedures, and the significance of access to accurate procedural information. Heather’s personal experiment described below shows [...]

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The Continuing Growth of SRL Jurisprudence: Two Encouraging Rays of Light

There have been some worrisome developments recently in the jurisprudence concerning self-represented litigants – but also, in the last few weeks, two important rays of light. Punishing self-rep mistakes with costs Three weeks ago I wrote my blog on Dorey v Dorey, an Ontario Superior Court decision that imposed $15,000 worth of legal costs on a SRL who was judged to have intentionally and mischievously protracted litigation via multiple filings and exhibits, by not making an Offer to Settle, and her [...]

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Two Tales Illustrating the Importance of Unbundled Legal Services for Access to Justice

This week NSRLP released the National Database of Professionals Assisting SRLs, along with a video (watch here: https://representingyourselfcanada.com encouraging lawyers to consider offering unbundled legal services, and featuring endorsements by Chief Justice Robert Bauman of British Columbia, Chief Justice Michael MacDonald of Nova Scotia, and Associate Chief Justice Frank Marrocco of the Ontario Superior Court. This is an initiative that we have been working on since last spring, slowly coaxing lawyers and others to step forward and become part of [...]

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Introducing the National Database of Professionals Assisting SRLs!

Today the National Self-Represented Litigants Project is launching a project five months in the making – the National Database of Professionals Assisting SRLs. Every day self-represented litigants contact us looking for affordable legal assistance. As you are aware, studies show that full representation by a lawyer is unaffordable for not just the very poor, but for ordinary middle-income Canadians. This growing National Database contains the names of dozens of lawyers (as well as paralegals, and other professionals offering therapeutic support and [...]

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A Punitive Costs Award Against a SRL – and the Lawyers Who Gloat

Last week, I received an email from someone working with self-represented litigants drawing my attention to a case reported in Advocates Daily (Dorey v Dorey (2016 ONSC 2746)). $15,000 awarded against a SRL for “intentionally” driving up costs This ruling on costs by Madam Justice McGee awards $15,000 of costs against the applicant mother (self-representing) in a child support variation case. The respondent father was represented by counsel, and the judge accepted the argument that the mother had intentionally escalated the [...]

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A Legal Education in the Public Interest? The Legal Practice Program and Access to Justice

The Law Society of Upper Canada’s Professional Development and Competence Committee has recommended that the Legal Practice Program (the LPP) – a one-year course at Ryerson and Ottawa U., which offers law graduates an alternative to articling – should be discontinued in 2017. The LPP was introduced as a three-year pilot project as an alternative route to qualification, for students who were unable to find articles, or who preferred instruction. I agree with the robust defence of the LPP being made [...]

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Reflecting on the Fake Shock over Donald Trump: Why Now?

Subject-matter warning It is rare – as it should be – that my blog is not focused on Access to Justice and self-representation. I am grateful for and respect the fact that the followers of this blog are looking for information, news and analysis on this topic which is so incredibly important, and so dear to my heart. But this Thanksgiving weekend I am asking your permission to allow an exception to this rule. Because if there was ever a time [...]

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Why it is Critical to Educate Law Students About the Self-Represented Litigant Phenomenon

Last spring my team of student research assistants and I did some brainstorming about an issue that concerned us all deeply. How best to both inform and energize law students about the explosion of self-represented litigants and its implications? How to give law students an understanding of the struggles faced by those with no alternative but to represent themselves because they could not afford counsel (or only a little bit of counsel)?  How to encourage law students to begin to think practically [...]

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Why Robin Camp Must Be Removed from the Bench

  Over the past few weeks I have watched with a growing sense of unreality as leading members of the legal establishment have stepped forward to defend Robin Camp, and argue for him to remain a member of the Canadian judiciary. In case you missed it, Robin Camp (whom I shall not call Justice Camp) is the judge who displayed complete ignorance of Canadian law on sexual consent in a rape case in which he asked the rape victim (whom he [...]

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The Mess that is Tarion: Conflict of Interest, Uneven Contests, and Failure to Act

I’ve blogged before about the sorry state of the Licensing Appeal Tribunal process meant to resolve disputes between homeowners and builders under Ontario’s new homes warranty program, Tarion. What is Tarion? Tarion is a corporation that regulates and licenses the building industry in Ontario Tarion is responsible for administering the government’s home warranty program under the Ontario New Home Warranties Plan Act. Tarion’s Board of Directors and corporate leadership is dominated by industry representatives and lacks consumer representation (written about by national columnists [...]

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“My Learned Friend”: Building Constructive Working Relationships Between Self-Represented Litigants and Opposing Counsel

Working with Opposing Counsel We know from our research that many SRLs will find that the other side in the dispute is represented by a lawyer, for some or all of the time. When this is the case, it is critically important for the SRL and opposing counsel to create a constructive working relationship. A functional professional relationship between the SRL and opposing counsel is critical to the progress and the resolution of the case. But for a variety of reasons, [...]

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Welcoming our 1Ls to Access to Justice at Windsor Law: The Self-Represented Litigants and Access to Justice Certificate Workshop, and an Introductory Blog

Julie – with the assistance of NSRLP research assistants Gurleen Gill and Lidia Imbrogno – will be presenting The Self-Represented Litigants and Access to Justice Certificate Workshop on Saturday September 17th for Windsor 1Ls. The workshop’s goal is to familiarize new students with the basic facts of the SRL phenomenon, and encourage them to begin to think about how they might respond to these changes and challenges both as law students and as future lawyers. Local SRLs will also [...]

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Why Law Students should Care about Self-Represented Litigants and Access to Justice

Guest blog by Lidia Imbrogno, NSRLP research assistant and 2L, Windsor Law  Depending on whom you ask, “Access to Justice” can mean different things. When I first came across this term a few years ago, I thought that it sounded like a term for victims seeking retributive action, or perhaps a synonym for human rights. As a law school applicant and later a 1L at Windsor Law, the meaning of Access to Justice began to take shape for me. But it [...]

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Making it Legal: Some Simple Steps for Moving Unbundling to the Next Stage

NSRLP has just collated the results of a short online survey, distributed through social media to lawyers in Ontario whom we knew were offering or considering offering unbundled legal services to family litigants. The survey, developed at the request of the Ontario Family Legal Services Review, was “live” for just two weeks and has a small sample size – but the almost 50 responses provide a reasonable snapshot of the opinions of both lawyers working with clients using limited scope [...]

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The client most lawyers fear – and won’t represent at any price

by Donald Best There is a class of self-represented litigants that the legal profession does not talk about or even acknowledge, at least publicly. These are the people who are ready and willing to pay a lawyer, but are forced to represent themselves because the vast majority of lawyers refuse to litigate cases involving a claim of professional misconduct against another member of the Bar. In the past year I have spoken with dozens of such individuals. I am not a [...]

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A Terrible Week: Moving the Needle on Social Change

Last week I was fortunate to listen to a speech given in Essex County by Paul Schmitz (Everyone Leads: Building Leadership from the Community Up, 2011) on the lessons of building community collaborations that “move the needle” on real social change. As well as being practical and concrete, Paul’s ideas resonate with those who believe in leadership by many – and that everyone – not just the “experts” or system insiders – has the potential to contribute to change. Paul’s [...]

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Casual Sexism and Access to Justice – Facing Our Discomfort

Earlier this week, NSRLP posted a notice about a new women’s legal aid clinic in Vancouver on Facebook and Twitter. Unfortunately, we have recently had to block a couple of Twitter accounts that have responded with misogynist comments to our tweets about women’s issues, and in particular, how the legal system fails to address sexual violence, most of whose victims are women. As some of you may have noticed, I have increasingly tweeted about these issues that I believe are [...]

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New National SRL Support Organization: “My Journey to Advocacy”

Guest blog by Jana Saracevic, National Self-Represented Litigants Support Network How I Got Here  In 2008, my family and I became a statistic. We entered the enigmatic world of the family legal system. My spouse and I wore rose-coloured glasses – we imagined the process of separation and divorce would be relatively straightforward, and follow a logical path. Within a year ,I went from feeling sad at the breakup of my family, to utter shock and disbelief. The family legal [...]

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New On-Line Resources for Family SRLs

NSRLP recently reviewed 2 new – and quite different – on-line Canadian resources designed to assist and support family SRLs. Thistoo.co Thistoo offers a suite of free tools designed to obtain an accurate picture of the financial implications of divorce, including: child support, spousal support, and asset-splitting calculators. The site has 4 entry points: plan, organize, agree, resolve. Each category includes interactive and user-friendly tools which allow a user to gather and organize information, and also to actually move forward with their [...]

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New Self-Help Book Geared Towards SRLs

In ”Representing Yourself in Court: How to Win Your Case on Your Own”, Devlin Farmer uses his experience as a lawyer to create a resource-rich tool that offers SRLs insight into complex court processes and the “tricks of the trade” used by lawyers. “Representing Yourself in Court” provides an overview of the process a SRL can expect, from beginning to end, when they file in family or civil court. Devlin encourages the reader to consider alternative dispute resolution methods prior [...]

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Ontario Family Legal Services Review Offers Opportunity for Legal Profession to Show the Public it is Listening – and Cares

“Review announces sweeping changes in para-professional services for family law – help is on the way for families who cannot afford lawyers” “Review backs status quo – says paralegals “not ready” to deliver family legal services, leaving family litigants with limited or no choices” Submissions are now closed for the Ontario Family Legal Services Review, chaired by Madam Justice Bonkalo. Which headline will we be reading when the Review issues its September report? Facing the problem The Terms of Reference of the Bonkalo [...]

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A Week of Contradictions: Why I Sometimes Feel Despair About the Profession I Love

Last week I received this year’s Mundell Medal for Legal Writing – a co-recipient with with my colleague, Mr. Justice Todd Archibald – from the Attorney-General of Ontario. This was a great honor, which was both genuinely gratifying – but also conflicting for me. Because after more than 30 years of offering “loving critique” of the legal profession and the justice system, I now find myself in more despair than ever. In the last few years, each time I attend a conference of [...]

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Finally, Canadian Data on Case Outcomes: SRL vs. Represented Parties

For the past three years, ever since the publication of the National SRL Study, I have been regularly asked about the impact self-representation has on case outcomes. The original study focused on understanding the motivations, experience sand impact of self-representation. The majority (75%) of those interviewed were SRLs with cases still in progress. The remaining 25% were not asked about their outcomes directly, and few talked about it (this may surprise you, but the transcripts show this clearly). Instead, they wanted [...]

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Unbundling “Unbundling”: Separating the Myths from the Realities

There is a noticeable increase in the amount of legal services being openly offered via limited-scope retainers or as unbundled legal services. More lawyers are advertising that they will offer unbundling There are more seminars and continuing legal education sessions on unbundling This is music to the ears of the thousands who are primarily self-represented people because they cannot afford full representation. It is also critical to the future of access to justice. As the UK Civil Justice Council reported in 2011 – [...]

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Raising Consciousness, Deepening Knowledge & Building Bridges: SRLs and the Law Schools

Since the establishment of NSRLP in 2013, we have been looking for ways to humanize and normalize the experience of so many Canadians who now come to court without counsel – individuals who either began with a lawyer at their side but ran out of funds – or who found the traditional retainer + full-representation model of legal services simply unaffordable from the get-go. Throwback to “SRL for a Day” An early initiative was “SRL for a Day”, when we paired leading [...]

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Self-Represented Litigants, Judges, and the NSRLP McKenzie Friend Guide

Guest blog by Judith M. DaSilva Just over a year ago, I approached Julie Macfarlane for supervision for my LLM. I had read her book “The New Lawyer” and loved how she thought about negotiation, and re-defining roles for lawyers and teaching methods for law students. Normally, she would have declined my request for supervision, given her schedule. My magical strategy – I suggested that perhaps I could do a piece of research for the NSRLP. The McKenzie Friend: Choosing [...]

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Including the Public in A2J Consultations: A Grade Report Card for the Provinces – Guest Blog by Robert Harvie

Last summer, on behalf of the NSRLP, I sought some feedback on the extent to which Access to Justice initiatives across Canada were engaging actual litigants and/or self-represented litigants in developing their ideas, strategies and programs. A simple survey was mailed out to 44 respondents – essentially, every provincial and territorial government, the Federal government, each Law Society, each CBA branch and the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice – bodies we assumed would be most engaged in Access to Justice [...]

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The Genie Jumps Out of the Bottle: Creative Access to Justice Solutions for Effective Legal Assistance

Something very important is rising on the Access to Justice horizon… In the last 3 months, CBC’s The National screened a documentary on the Access to Justice crisis and the huge increase in self-represented litigants. The National is regularly watched by just under 1 million people and the documentary is still being viewed on You Tube. In the few days that followed the documentary’s airing, NSRLP website views peaked. Many lawyers reported increased enquiries about limited scope services (unbundled legal services). [...]

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The Loneliness of the Self-Represented Litigant

When her case was called, Maria (not her real name) walked towards the front table in the courtroom and, anxiously shifting her papers, asked the judge if she could have her sister sit with her during the hearing. She explained that she could not take notes and listen to what was being said at the same time, and her sister could help her by taking notes for her. Maria said that she had become so overwhelmed the last time [...]

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Time for a National Database of Professionals Assisting SRLs: Affordable, Empowering, Entrepreneurial

NSRLP has started to create a National Database of Professionals Assisting SRLs. The goal is clear – SRLs need and want assistance, and a National Database could offer information on affordable assistance that provide at least a measure of access to justice for those who would wish to avail of them. But while a database is a simple idea, the path ahead for a National Database is challenging. There are many uncertainties and challenges, including logistical dilemmas over whom to include, [...]

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If Careful Evidence-Based Reporting of Present-Day Realities in the Justice System Makes NSRLP “Political” – Then We Are Guilty as Charged

NSRLP continues to build support and gain supporters from across the legal establishment – judges, lawyers, para-legals, policy and court services folks and more. We are gratified to count among the many supporters of our work on self-represented litigants and access to justice leading members of the Bench, senior lawyers and regulators with wide influence in the profession, and policy chiefs in justice ministries and legal aid boards across Canada. And we receive constant appreciation from members of the public, [...]

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Cuba 2016 – Challenging Our Thinking about Change

I have just returned from a week spent driving around Cuba, exploring small towns and big cities, and staying in people’s homes. In 2016, this is a country of enormous deprivation, colossal pride, and bubbling optimism. This may be an embarrassing disclosure of how preoccupied I am with thinking about access to justice issues – but trying to better understand Cuba, as it emerges from 50 years of isolation and poverty, gave me some new ways to think about our [...]

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NSRLP’s Summary Judgment Research Report: Finding a Balance between Process Efficiency & Access to Justice

We received many, many, reactions to NSRLP’s Summary Judgment Report, published 6 weeks before the end of 2015. These responses to the Report remind us that a complex balance needs to be found between protecting a court’s and litigant’s time from unmeritorious actions, while protecting and ensuring Access to Justice. They illustrate perfectly the complexity of moving Access to Justice forward in an era in which more and more of those coming to court have no legal counsel, and many have [...]

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Marking Our Report Card – Tell Us What You Think?

When the NSRLP Advisory Board met in Windsor two weeks ago, we looked back at our 2015 Strategic Plan (which you can read here) and talked about progress made towards our overarching goal – to raise public and justice system professionals’ awareness of the SRL phenomenon, and its impact on Access to Justice for Canadians. The NSRLP mandate Board member and former SRL Jennifer Muller summed up the NSRLP mandate as follows: “At the heart of our mandate is the intention to [...]

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