Public Responses to the “Open Letter”

Public Responses to the “Open Letter”

We received a flood of comments from the public in response to the Open Letter to the Canadian Judiciary. The day of the Toronto Star in particular we broke all our previous social media records. The scale and tone of the public response showed how deeply the Open Letter touched ordinary Canadians, many of whom can relate to the experiences it describes.

Many of the comments (made on our website, Facebook page, and on-line in response to the Toronto Star, Law Times, and the Yahoo News story, talked about how the Letter resonated with their own experiences. Just a few examples: “Thank you so much to the authors of the Open Letter and to Jennifer Muller who I just heard being interviewed on CBC’s The Current. Jennifer, I could relate to every single thing you said in your interview. I have been forced to represent myself in provincial family court for many years, and the experience has been extremely stressful and time-consuming.” And: “My heartfelt appreciation for being the voice of many.
…reading this letter brought me to tears and reminded me of the fragility I hold having had the experience of self representation.”

A number of commentators correctly pointed out that judicial attitudes towards the self-represented are just one aspect of a far larger system problem. Many raised questions about affordable legal services and talked about the potential of “unbundled” legal services; others pointed out that the current shortage of articling opportunities means some newly minted lawyers cannot get work at all, despite the public need for affordable legal services; yet others made the case for more resources for public legal education for SRLs navigating the system alone.

Some comments were directed to the importance of designing the right process for the resolution of family disputes, both in court (“In a process that was at bottom an extension of my own personal conversation with my ex-wife, it was hard not feel like I was an unwelcome guest”), and including mediation (“I hope that more SRLs will take advantage of the deeply subsidized family mediation services— including free same day onsite mediation in all Ontario family courts.”)

One comment reflected the core purpose of the Open Letter. “I hope we all will have more empathy for everyone: for the SRLs of course, who are very vulnerable as this letter notes; and also for their spouses ….I also hope for more empathy for the judges…” The Open Letter was an attempt to highlight the need for greater understanding and appreciation between SRLs and members of the judiciary.

The Canadian Judicial Council has said that they will respond to the Open Letter. We shall share that response at that time.

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Comments (2)

  • J Kirby INwood Reply

    YOu are off to a good start. I am a SLR and recently had a judge write that I “regard the courts as his personal playground.” I saw the same sort of nasty comment about some other litigants. That judge had never seen me before and I was forced to be in court defending myself in a ludricrous civill counter suit filed by people who owe me money. The judge found they forged their material but they did not get sanctioned beyond a they “should know better.” Arrogance, ego,are common on the bench followed closely by out and out open rudeness and disdain of slrs. Seen it may times. although I have also seen good judges trying very hard to put up with SLRs who have watched too much tv

    October 29, 2014 at 1:02 am
  • Ken Chasse, Toronto, LSUC & LSBC. Reply

    Your SRL projects will help make self-represented litigants a permanent feature of the justice system. That is not what taxpayers pay for by financing the whole of the justice system. Nor should they have to be content with student and paralegal programs, unbundling of legal services, and pro bono charity. Let the benchers of our law societies send their close relatives and friends to such programs. Benchers are not personally hurting, and they will be happily retired while the rest of the profession struggles with the very poor economic future that they have left behind because of their failure to deal with the problem for decades.

    There is no sign that you understand the cause of “the unaffordable legal services problem,” therefore you have no chance of solving it, or of advocating the right solution.
    You are dealing with the consequences of the problem, but not its cause.
    Law societies have let the cause operate for the decades necessary to have brought the problem to its present state of severe damage, i.e., causing more damage in one day than have all of the incompetent and unethical lawyers in the whole of, and in the whole history of Canada. They have seen the damage grow during those years, but done nothing. The problem is now too complex for a lawyers’ skills alone. All law society benchers are part-time amateurs–amateurs who don’t have the necessary expertise, and are not under sufficient pressure to enlist the expertise necessary solve the problem. Therefore as benchers, they serve self-interest and not the public interest. If they have been sufficiently responsive to the problem, it would not exist.

    The cause of the problem is the method of delivering legal services, not the absence of the right improvement to that method. Trying to improve it is like adding a motor to a bicycle when the solution requires a motor vehicle. All fields of the competitive manufacturing of goods and services have moved from a “handcraftsman’s method” to a “support services method,” except the legal profession. Using the necessary economics of scale and higher degrees of specialization is not possible using a handcraftsman’s method. Therefore current efforts will never solve the problem.

    I know, because I spent 9 years learning how to solve the problem for Legal Aid Ontario (LAO). In its 9th year of development, my legal research unit was producing compete legal opinions for lawyers in private practice who service legal aid cases, at the rate of 5,000 per year. That unit, LAO LAW, now has a 35-year history of innovation, and saving LAO millions of dollars. Everyone else who has dealt with the problem has had to stop with making recommendations, and has not been able to put them into effect to learn from the consequences, and then engage in more trial-and-error until the true nature and cause of the problem is understood. Recommendations are speculation without experience.
    Without that kind of extended trial-and-error experience, a lawyer won’t understand the cause of the problem. The performance of our law societies proves that.
    And worse, lacking a proper understanding and solution, the legal profession will be seduced into accepting proposals for “alternative business structures.” They are currently being considered by various law societies and law firms throughout Canada. But they can do nothing to make legal advice services more affordable.

    October 29, 2014 at 10:42 am

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