Marking Our Report Card – Tell Us What You Think?

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 challenge the negative stereotype of SRLs. Each project and every interaction that the NSRLP had with anyone this year furthered this important goal of changing how others see and understand SRLs.”

Jennifer pointed out that this meant “building this understanding from the bottom up, beginning with law students.” Law student representative Erin Chesney added:

“We need to focus on law students because they are the future lawyers, judges, and policy makers who will be using and molding the system.”

Sherry MacLennan, BC Legal Services Society’s Director of Public Legal Information and Applications, reflected that this advocacy mandate has evolved to become the centre of the NSRLP mission.

“This realization shapes the work to come.”

How well have we done this year?

In this end-of-year blog, I present some of the themes that emerged during the Board’s discussion in November, including our effort to evaluate the impact that NSRLP has had to date, and where our biggest challenges remain.

The Advisory Board sees this analysis as crucial to directing our resources and influence over the next 12 months. We welcome – and encourage – your feedback.

NSRLP impact in 2015

Board member Justice John Rooke emphasized the impact of the NSRLP on the way that the judiciary understands and relates to SRLs.

“NSRLP has raised the profile of SRLs as a group. This has been helpful in getting all members of the justice community, including the judiciary, to be more focused on the needs and challenges of SRLs. The NSRLP encourages the creation and sharing of resources both to assist SRLs representing themselves in court, and to assist judges, lawyers and other members of the justice community to interact with SRLs in ways that are more effective for both sides of the communication.”

Justice Rooke is working with judicial colleagues on an updated version of the NSRLP publication “Working With Self-Represented Litigants: Ideas and Suggestions From the Bench” which we hope to have ready by Spring 2016.

Sherry MacLennan, BC Legal Services Society’s Director of Public Legal Information and Applications, focused on the work that NSRLP has done in facilitating regular information-sharing on policy initiatives among provincial public legal services, and the impact its legal coaching model has had on the evolution of public legal services.

“Legal aid providers are keenly aware of the needs of SRLs as demand always far outstrips our ability to refer people to lawyers. NSRLP’s commitment to fostering dialogue and collaboration through conference calls has contributed to national-level relationship building and the sharing of critical information and experience. Taking the time to connect in this way has been critical as we innovate to meet SRL needs.

As well, BC Legal Services Society (LSS) was inspired by the NSRLP coaching projects to redesign our Family LawLine on a coaching model, and NSRLP has contributed to the enhancement of many other public legal education and information providers. This year, LSS adapted Coping with the Courtroom for our Family Law Website to meet the needs of our one million-plus annual visitors.”

Board member Rob Harvie QC adds:

“NSRLP has been “punching above its weight” in drawing attention away from what I call the “usual suspects” – lawyers, judges, government administration – and towards the people who really know what they need, that is, the consumers of legal services. This continues to include a tremendous number of unrepresented consumers given voice by our organization.  I’m proud to continue that effort in the coming year.”

The Board is keenly aware of the importance of outreach to those as yet unaware of, and unaffected by, the crisis in Access to Justice.

“A bright spot in our 2015 outreach is the opportunity presented by The National’s coverage of these issues (“The New Litigant”, forthcoming on The National, 31/12/15).  We hope it will provide a significant impetus for a national conversation about this urgent societal issue and how to move forward with constructive responses.” (Professor Bill Bogart)

 Where next in 2016?

Aware of our finite resources, the Board spent some time discussing and debating where NSRLP should direct its energies in 2016. There are many needs. We all agree that NSRLP can be most effective if people really care about Access to Justice – whether they are politicians or members of the public or legal system “insiders”. As Rob Harvie put it:

“There has to be a broader connection that makes the public care. We need to bring Access to Justice to the public agenda.”

Jennifer Muller expanded this point in relation to establishing and nurturing important NSRLP “champions”.

“Meaningful culture change is necessary in order for the justice system to evolve. This means continued efforts to identify more champions willing to support the NSRLP mandate”.

Professors Bill Bogart and Trevor Farrow identified the opportunities presented by the new federal government – “get ‘em while they’re hot” urged Professor Bogart – and in particular the new Justice Minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould. Professor Farrow asked:

“How do we set out our goals in a manner that can engage the office of (new Minister) Jody Wilson-Raybould?”

Because as Jennifer Muller puts it:

“Without building relationships with government we have little chance of realizing real change.”

Your feedback is welcome

In January 2016 the Project faces a period of adjustment as we say goodbye to Sue Rice, our amazing Project Manager. A team of three law students and Julie will continue to move the work of the NSRLP forward, with assistance from our Board members and in particular, Jennifer Muller who moves into a more active operational role.

I suspect that much will stay the same in 2016 – our focus on SRL advocacy, the development of new SRL resources, our strong support for new models of affordable legal services and more effective public legal services, and our continued efforts to forge relationships with justice system “insiders” or professionals. But each year brings a new set of issues and challenges. We welcome your feedback on our report card and comments on what you want us to focus on in 2016.

I shall leave the last word to Bill Bogart, which I think expresses the heart of NSRLP’s mission and articulates the reason we each remain so committed to this work:

“The phenomenon of SRLs confront us with challenges that go to the heart of civic society.  Liberal democracies declare that a fundamental building block is the Rule of Law.  Yet, increasingly, that core value is threatened because more and more individuals have inadequate access, or even no access, because they are required by insurmountable circumstances to represent themselves.”

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Comments (5)

  • Allen

    Quite frankly, my heart sank because I had started to believe in NSRLP and now this. I have to say the NSRLP has its own enemies within. I am a SRL and when I see that Judge Rooke is a board member I cannot see this as anything else but lip service. Ask any SRL in Alberta whether any court room experience in Alberta is better in any way since time immemorial. I can assure you the answer will be no (at least 99%) Prior to this project and judges networking to inform one another that SRLs should be booted and denied their rights in court, i challenge the NSRLP to do an examination of results in court for SRLs in Alberta first by looking at what their Claim says. compare the evidence they submit and then compare the results and we will all see how frightening the reality is. Take it further and actually talk to the SRLs and see how many will relate the crookedness they face in court including judges mouthing to the lawyers what to say and what to do to SRLs. It is so bad now that even lawyers are beginning to get mistreated when they stand up against more well known and connected colleagues in Court. Judge Robin Camp’s now infamous tirade is more the norm in these courts.

    How can we even talk about progress when the judges do not even respect the Rules of Court of jurisprudence let alone some manual about dealing with SRLs.I am sorry if you want us to believe then do not present people like Judge Rooke to us as having any interests in justice for SRL let alone respect for the rights of ordinary people in court. Meade v, Meade was not aimed at Freemen on the Land ( and it should not be aimed at anyone in this country): It is aimed at SRLs and you can quote me on that

    I am dissapointed

    December 22, 2015 at 3:58 pm
  • brenanytimeprofits

    This article was very informative for me. I was wondering if you have ever tried using
    as a medium for creating and issuing petitions for changes?

    December 28, 2015 at 10:22 pm
  • nsrlp

    brenanytimeprofits, thanks for the suggestion. We will be discussing it in 2016.

    December 29, 2015 at 1:29 am
  • bcaptijn

    Reblogged this on CONSUMERS' REFORM TARION and commented:
    Equality before the law is what our society is based upon. We have more lawyers today than most other countries. Yet the middle class has been priced out of the market for legal assistance. No one wants to self-represent. If we could all afford the best lawyers we’d hire them, since it would significantly increase our chances of winning. The hourly-billing model has placed justice out of reach for most people except large coporations and the very wealthy. Our Ministers of justice have to lead change by fixing imbalances such as those at the License Appeal Tribunal for ONHWPA claims. They are fully aware of the problems and need to take real action.

    January 2, 2016 at 1:18 am
  • bcaptijn

    Thank you NSRL Project and Dr Julie Macfarlane for this CBC documentary, and all your important work in 2015.

    In one important area where our Ontario Minister of Justice and Ombudsman of Ont could take action, but do not, is the License Appeal Tribunal ((LAT) for ONHWPA claims. Self-represented litigants lose over 92 per cent of these cases. The Rules of Procedure are complex and SRL’s are faced with 2 lawyers, Tarion’s and the builder’s. There is no duty counsel on LAT staff to explain procedures or how to prepare materials. Most consumers give upon this uneven playing field and proceed to other courts, which further taxes the judicial system.

    For years consumer advocates have made suggestions how to fix these imbalances. SLASTO, the LAT’s oversight body, continues to seem complacent and downplay the problems. There seems to be no political will to do anything.

    Large political campaign donations to the governing Liberals may be keeping them from changing the status quo which faours their major donors, the building industry.

    This is a political problem, and politicians have turned a blind eye to it. It belongs on the plate of our Ontario Attorney-General, and her MPP colleagues who could take meaningful action, and do not.

    B. Captijn, Volunteer Consumer Advocate, Toronto

    January 2, 2016 at 1:57 am

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