The access to justice imperative

Gavin Hume, QCby Gavin Hume, QC

This past year, the Law Society was very much in the forefront of activities aimed at enabling the public to secure legal services. This will remain a significant and ongoing priority for me and the Benchers this year.

We approved the recommendation of the Delivery of Legal Services Task Force to expand the roles that paralegals and articled students can perform under the supervision of a lawyer.

We supported the work of the Public Commission on Legal Aid in British Columbia.

And we took to heart the call in late November from Chief Justice Lance Finch, echoed more recently by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, when he invited the Law Society, and the profession, to meet the challenge of access to justice head on and find creative solutions to the high cost of legal services to the public.

It is now time for those initiatives to yield real results.

Part of the Law Society’s mandate is “to uphold and protect the public interest in the administration of justice by preserving and protecting the rights and freedoms of all persons.” Fulfilling this part of our mandate will require the Law Society to assist lawyers to find ways to make their services more accessible to the public.

The challenges are daunting and certainly extend beyond the capacity of the Law Society alone, but the Benchers are aggressively doing all we can in this area. The Access to Legal Services Advisory Committee will meet far more frequently and tackle a number of initiatives. The committee will carry forward the Delivery of Legal Services Task Force recommendations, including working with the Law Society staff, the Provincial Court, the Supreme Court and others to determine and implement the changes to our Professional Conduct Handbook and Rules that will be necessary to allow law students and paralegals to take on expanded duties. Upon completion of this important work, it will be up to the profession to take advantage of the new options for providing affordable legal services to the public.

Along with others in the legal community, we welcomed the report on legal aid from Commission Chair Len Doust, QC. As expected, the report provides fresh insight into the well-recognized challenges faced by our public legal aid system. We will be reviewing its recommendations carefully to determine its implications for the Law Society as we continue our work in this area.

There will be no quick fixes, to be sure. But I am confident we can make progress in the coming months.

As an indication of the fact that the issue of access to legal services extends far beyond our province, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada has recently launched its Access to Legal Services Committee. BC will be well represented on that committee by Bencher David Mossop, QC.

This year, I am also the BC member on the National Council, the governing body of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada.

As you are aware, through the auspices of the Federation, the law societies in Canada have entered into mobility agreements that facilitate the movement of the members of the various law societies from one law society to another with relative ease. This agreement has necessarily resulted in the Federation focusing on the development and implementation of high, consistent and transparent national standards for Canada’s law societies in core areas of their mandates.

I will report further on these initiatives and why I think they are very important in a future Benchers’ Bulletin.

Lastly, this year marks the final year of the Law Society’s first strategic plan. In addition to ensuring we close out the year with the plan complete, we will be developing the 2012-14 plan to provide continuity and guidance to the Benchers and the Law Society in the years ahead.

One year as President is not a long time. There is much to do and I intend to do as much as I can. I look forward to working with you, hearing from you and continuing the fine work of this organization.

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