The CanLII Primer – Legal Research Principles and CanLII Navigation for Self-Represented Litigants

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nsrlpBy Alan Kilpatrick

The National Self-Represented Litigants Project (NSRLP) has just developed an amazing new resource for self-represented litigants (SRLs) called, The CanLII Primer.  Are you familiar with the NSRLP? The NSRLP is a research group, created by Julie Macfarlane, which promotes access to justice and legal resources for SRLs.  Macfarlane, a professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Windsor, has extensively researched access to justice issues in Canada.  You can learn more at about the NSRLP at the Project’s website.

The CanLII Primer was created to help SRLs search CanLII for case law and legislation.  It was developed by NSRLP’s Research Assistant Tamara Thomas.  Thomas describes why she was motivated to create the primer on the NSRLP website,

The CanLII Primer aims to help SRLs develop a basic understanding of how to operate CanLII in a straightforward and effective way. CanLII is a wonderful resource because it is open to anyone to use – no fees, no commitments – but it can also be frustrating to operate.”

The primer begins by describing the Canadian legal system, the structure of the Canadian Courts, and the system of precedents.  Through simple search examples, the primer explains how to construct basic keyword searches, locate case law and legislation, and how to use CanLII to sort search results.  The primer concludes by offering a basic research strategy.  It suggests SRLs begin with legislation and then proceed to case law, while keeping the precedent system in mind.  Additionally, the primer features a helpful glossary of legal terms.

Thomas explains the most challenging aspect of creating a primer for individuals without a legal background,

“The legal system is one created by and dependent upon inaccessible and unintuitive language, and trying to access and understand the legal research process without properly understanding that language throws up yet another barrier to SRLs. Writing the Primer required that I completely deconstruct everything that I knew in a way that we are not taught in law school. ”How do I explain this in a way someone without a legal education can understand?’ ‘What does this term mean in everyday language?…”

The CanLII Primer is an extremely impressive resource for SRLs as it greatly improves access to justice.  I look forward to seeing additional resources from the NSRLP in the future.  You can access The CanLII Primer at the National Self-Represented Litigants Project website.

 

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