If Careful Evidence-Based Reporting of Present-Day Realities in the Justice System Makes NSRLP “Political” – Then We Are Guilty as ChargedNSRLP
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, grateful that their voices are being taken seriously, and not to be treated as nuisances or intruders in seeking access to justice.
But I am, of course, very well aware that in some quarters NSRLP is not so popular.
I mean, let’s not be coy about it – both I and the organization I lead are extremely unpopular in some quarters, for simply raising issues and reporting sometimes uncomfortable data. The type of research we are engaged in, at a time filled with challenges for our justice system, means that NSRLP acts as a messenger whom it is sometimes tempting to shoot, and who is an easy target for glib dismissal.
I am fairly certain that some of the scions of the legal establishment roll their eyes at the very mention of my name, or the NSRLP.
NSRLP is “just political”
Really that’s all fine, it goes with the territory. But I think it is important to address the use of the term “political” and how it is sometimes used to disparage and even dismiss.
Calling something or someone “political” is “North-American speak” for dismissing them as ideologically driven, biased and unbalanced, and probably unworthy of being taken seriously.
This is a remarkably common disparagement when information is being presented that is unpalatable for some reason, or causes discomfort or controversy.
We saw the same claim made after early tests carried out by Virginia Tech researchers clearly showed dangerous lead levels in Flint Michigan’s water supply. That this research was driven by ideology, not science. And so it could be dismissed by the state’s leaders (although not by the affected residents).
I know how those Virginia Tech researchers must have felt, because we sometimes hear the same rejection of NSRLP data, framed in similar terms. We hear related assertions that:
- Our research is “just anecdotal” (curiously, this claim is often made by someone who then proceeds to tell an anecdote to substantiate their own argument)
- NSRLP “only talks to people who are unhappy about the justice system because they lost their cases.” (when in fact the vast majority of those interviewed in the original study, and whom we continue to hear from, are still in process with their cases)
- NSRLP is motivated only by a desire to “bash” lawyers and judges (we would answer that respectfully raising issues about the structure of the legal system and the affordability of legal services is not “bashing”, and certainly is not questioning the commitment of the majority of those who working in that system)
Conflating “uncomfortable” with “political”
At NSRLP, we believe that evidence-based policy changes are the best ones. Even if the evidence causes discomfort and raises the specter of change.
This is neither “political” nor ideological – it is how good public policy is made.
For example, is it “political” when we point out that:
- The cost of legal services – especially when structured using a traditional full-representation and retainer model – is out of reach for most ordinary Canadians (consistent with data in all other major common law jurisdictions)?
- As a result, the numbers of those representing themselves has exploded in the last decade?
- While some judges are doing an amazing job of trying to meet the challenges of working with distressed, overwhelmed SRLs, there are some on the Bench who are routinely rude, dismissive and condescending to those appearing before them without legal backgrounds?
- An elitist “us-vs-them” mentality continues to be part of the culture in many courts and courthouses?
- While some lawyers are working extraordinarily hard to develop new services for the self-represented and show their commitment to access to justice in many different ways, some in the legal profession regard SRLs as a scourge and will use (legal but unprincipled) procedural tactics against them in what is already an unequal contest?
- The huge rise in the number of summary judgments over the past decade and their near 100% reported success rate against SRLs suggests unintended consequences that require further examination?
- Despite lip service for “public consultation’, public involvement in the numerous “think tanks” and “talking shops” on access to justice reforms around the country remains at best low and in most cases, non-existent?
If it is “political” to point out these and other realities, even when they are based on solid data, then I suppose we are guilty as charged.
But far from being deterred, we commit to continuing to bring these realities to the fore. In fact, I take it as a compliment that NSRLP occasionally excites angry push-back.
And we shall continue to build on our relationships with our fabulous collaborators – both in the justice system and among the public – who push us to do more and better.