HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO US: Celebrating One Year of Hard Work and Important Achievements for the NSRLP in the cause of the SRL PhenomenonNSRLP
It is exactly a year now since we held the Dialogue Event at the Faculty of Law, University of Windsor, bringing together SRLs and judges, lawyers, legal profession leaders, government policymakers and court services managers to talk about the SRL Phenomenon, and to recognize its impact on us all (https://representingyourselfcanada.com/2013/05/07/opening-the-dialogue-event-report/).
Those two and a half days had a remarkable effect, I would be so bold as to suggest, on everyone who participated.
There was truly an opening of the eyes for both SRLs and justice system professionals. SRLs and system insiders listened, and understood one another as struggling in a broken system.
“I returned home …with an outlook on human nature that I never possessed before…. I had honestly thought the two days would be a shredding of the SRLs. …(Yet) everyone, no matter their position, treated the SRL delegates with attention and respect. Some, if not all, acknowledged that this is a systemic problem way beyond any isolated challenges caused by the self-advocate movement.”
A justice system professional
“The SRLs are really a symptom of a larger problem. We can’t financial, emotionally and psychologically continue on this same old, same old path. The divide will just get greater and greater. Thank you for bringing this matter to the attention of so many people who have the ability to make significant changes.”
What has happened since?
In the last 12 months NSRLP and other individuals and organizations have been working to tackle those significant changes. There is still a very long way to go, but some significant steps have been taken.
Specifically, a number of the recommendations made by the 5 Working Groups (Public Legal Services, Private Legal Services, Community/ Court-Based Alternatives, Simplified Court Forms and Procedures, the Judicial Role and SRLs) have begun to be put into action, including the following:
- “The inclusion of SRLs and other professionals who are not lawyers in ongoing system change initiatives and raising the political profile of the SRL and A2J issue”. (This Blog is just one part of the efforts that are going into this, evidenced by the large and continuing attention of media sources to the SRL Phenomenon. Events such as the recent SRL for a Day (https://representingyourselfcanada.com/2014/04/17/srl-for-a-day/) serve to heighten awareness in the profession and among the public of the plight of SRLs)
- “SRLs need to be represented on user committees that work on changing court forms and procedures” (NSRLP now regularly places SRLs, on request, to policy committees and user testing groups, as well as providing SRL speakers to professional conferences).
- “Provide more funding and access for legal aid/pro bono legal services” (Legal Aid Ontario has an additional $30 million over 3 years for family law initiatives that are being directed in large part towards those unable to afford any type of representation and presently ineligible for limited legal aid in the traditional model).
- “Develop incentives to provide affordable legal services and support to lawyers who wish to do so” (in Alberta, an unbundling “incubator” pilot is in the works and other Law Societies are looking at ways to educate and support lawyers to offer limited scope representation. NSRLP is working on a series of “legal coaching” pilots with lawyers and law students to develop new models of affordable and accessible private legal services).
- “Create leadership for systemic change” (regular collaboration and data sharing among Law Societies is continuing, facilitated by NSRLP)
- “A respected national body to take leadership on Access to Justice and the SRL Phenomenon”. (Windsor Law is now funding the continuing work of NSRLP and our small but dedicated team continues to work to bring these and the other recommendations of the Dialogue Event and the SRL National Study to fruition.)
We still have a long way to go, as my recent talk on “culture change” to the BC Family Justice Summit suggested (https://representingyourselfcanada.com/2014/05/05/culture-change-in-the-family-justice-system-a-talk-to-the-bc-family-justice-summit/). But the fact that I was giving that speech and that the BC Family Justice Summit was taking place – and I was followed y a speech by a SRL, Jennifer Muller – attests to the work that is being done across the country.
In the next year we shall continue to keep this focus on the SRL Phenomenon and its implications for Access to Justice in Canada. When we need further inspiration we need only to turn to the comments made by the participants at last year’s Dialogue Event.
“As a result of this weekend, people feel empowered. Every bit of information that gets out can help someone. This includes SRLs understanding the perspectives of judges and lawyers, as well as being heard themselves.”
“From the moment I stepped off the plane in Windsor until I left several days later I encountered an experience which I now consider to be the exact opposite of my interactions with the legal system. The chaos was replaced with order, indignities with respect and cruelty with kindness.”