Public Responses to the “Open Letter”NSRLP
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.