I’d like to congratulate the University of Victoria Faculty of Law for establishing its Access to Justice Centre for Excellence. This marks an important step in addressing a growing problem in our justice system.

Access to justice is increasingly denied not only to the poor and the marginalized, but to an ever broader part of our society. Numerous initiatives have been launched by organizations to address the growing crisis, but it won’t be solved by any one agency alone. The new centre at the University of Victoria, founded by Jerry McHale, QC, promises to fill an important gap in efforts made to-date by turning the attention of some of the province’s best legal scholars to addressing the problem.

I’m honoured to be a member of the BC Access to Justice Committee, formed last year and chaired by The Honourable Chief Justice Robert J. Bauman. That committee brings together leaders from diverse sectors, including government, the judiciary, the legal profession, non-profits, and related sectors such as health and community services.

In our role as regulators, the Law Society has launched a number of initiatives, including amending rules to expand the scope of legal services provided by non-lawyers such as articled students and designated paralegals.

While these efforts address the nuts-and-bolts details of on-the-ground service delivery, the University of Victoria’s Centre for Excellence promises to address an important gap on the level of public policy and planning.

One of the biggest challenges with access to justice is that we don’t know how big the problem is. Most of us have heard stories about people being shut out of the justice system, and many of us have witnessed it firsthand. But before we can address the problem as a society, policymakers, service providers and others need to be able to quantify the problem. The Canadian Bar Association identified this key deficiency in a report it published in 2013, where it noted that “Canada is plagued by a paucity of access to justice research.” The report explained that the result is a self-perpetuating circle of ignorance: a lack of scholarship on access to justice leaves policymakers deprived of the information they need in order to even begin collecting public data, and the resulting lack of reliable public data in turn hampers serious scholarship.

The University of Victoria’s Centre for Excellence aims to address that gap through academic and applied research, while at the same time fostering an awareness of access to justice issues among future generations of lawyers.

I applaud the University of Victoria Faculty of Law for its innovation and its commitment to addressing perhaps the most serious problem facing our justice system today.