By Kim Newsham
Senior Crown Counsel, Ministry of Justice, Innovations and Strategic Initiatives Branch
Most of you are aware of the various Access to Justice reports released in recent years. It is commonly acknowledged that our current justice system does not meet the needs of all members of the public, and that we need to rethink how we serve the public. Part of the answer lies in better coordination and integration of our efforts. The CBA’s 2013 report, Reaching Equal Justice: An Invitation to Envision and Act, advocated that “Provincial and territorial governments establish collaborative structures to bring together stakeholders and establish networks between local equal justice communities and task-based collaborative initiatives.”
Over the past year, Ministry of Justice staff from three branches, Pro Bono lawyers, Law Society Library staff, court staff, Legal Aid lawyers, CLASSIC lawyers, PLEA and others have been collaborating and jointly offering legal information sessions about family law to the public.
The Law Society Library graciously allowed us to use space in their library for us to hold these sessions. We initially tried to focus on assisting people in working on court forms using the new PLEA family law website, and required people to pre-register for the session. We noticed that half of the people attending had not received any legal information or advice or information about other options for resolving family law issues. Several of these people did not proceed with court applications. Since then, we have experimented with a few formats, following discussions about how best to meet the needs of family law clientele. Since December, we have been holding “Walk-in Wednesdays” in Regina at the Law Society Library in the Courthouse. We have set up a bit of a family law information centre in the basement library, with various family law pamphlets, posters and self-help kits. People attending Walk-in Wednesdays have a chance to meet individually with a legal volunteer and get information about family law, court procedures, and options for settling disputes out of court. Whenever it appears that someone may qualify for Legal Aid or Pro Bono services, we refer them so that they have access to legal advice.
The Walk-in Wednesday has been popular – we typically have six to eight people attending each week. Everyone who attends these sessions has been very grateful for the information they have received.
We have been collaborating with partners in Saskatoon to hold some sessions. We have held two evening sessions at the downtown branch of the Saskatoon Public library, with their support. Those sessions have been well attended, both by the public and by those interested in helping. Pro Bono lawyers, PLEA staff, Ministry of Justice staff, and law students have all come out to assist people. As well as sessions at Saskatoon Public library locations, we have had one session at the Law Society Library in Saskatoon, and hope this will continue once the library is fully operational.
Assisting the public has been rewarding, and even fun, with so many engaged partners. We welcome anyone who would like to come to a session and observe or even help.
We continue to look at ways we can meet the needs of people coming to these sessions, who are mostly self-represented. Many of these people would like to have legal advice but cannot afford full-service legal representation. I will end this post by leaving you with a query: would it be worthwhile compiling a list of lawyers who would be prepared to offer unbundled legal services, which could be given to people attending these sessions? If so, would you add your name to the list?
For more information, contact:
Senior Crown Counsel
Ministry of Justice, Innovations and Strategic Initiatives Branch
Family Law Information Centre, Ministry of Justice
Upcoming Family Law Sessions:
Kim Newsham has been a lawyer with Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Justice since 2002. She works primarily in the area of family law policy development, including analyzing and monitoring The Children’s Law Act, and program development relating to custody and access services. She participates in FPT groups and multi-sector groups, which are looking at ways to promote access to justice.