«Karen Cohl and George Thomson December 2008 Connecting Across Language and Distance: Linguistic and Rural Access to Legal Information and Services ...»
• Government representatives (e.g., from the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, and Citizenship and Immigration Canada).
We recommend that the Law Foundation fund a process to bring these and other organizations together to set priorities for measures that could be implemented and tested over time.
We suggest that priorities focus on improvements in three key areas, broadly defined as access to interpreters, quality assurance, and building the interpreter community. The partners involved in developing this initiative would no doubt refine the specific components in these areas and identify additional priorities.
1. Access to interpreters
• Assess the need for language and sign language interpretation throughout the legal process: information and referral, meetings with legal professionals, and proceedings at administrative tribunals and courts
• Identify priority languages in each area of the province and update them according to emerging immigration patterns and demographic changes
• Work with The Canadian Hearing Society and other key organizations to develop strategies to improve access to sign language interpreters
• Develop strategies and test innovative solutions to meet the demand for interpretation in person, by telephone, and via videoconferencing, and develop consensus on when the use of each method is appropriate. (See also suggestions for Legal Aid Ontario and other organizations to implement telephone interpretation under “Additional Proposals,” below.)
• Create a register of individuals and organizations providing interpreter services that meet required standards.
2. Quality assurance
• Develop consensus on the training necessary to become a qualified interpreter on legal issues in community and legal settings, and apply the findings to standards, classifications, and accreditation
• Pilot training programs leading to certification as a qualified interpreter for specific legal settings
• Develop policies and protocols for the delivery of interpreter services and the use of legal interpreters by community organizations
• Compile standard glossaries and other materials to assist interpreters working in legal settings
• Establish measures to ensure ongoing monitoring and evaluation.
3. The interpreter community
• Determine the type of networks required to establish and disseminate industry standards and foster a community of practice and supports for legal interpreters
• Determine how an Ontario Legal Interpretation Network would link to the broader interpreter community.
1. Organize a legal interpretation conference The Law Foundation’s implementation coordinator would hold preliminary discussions with organizations interested in organizing a conference or series of meetings to discuss the issues involved in legal interpretation in Ontario and the need for an Ontario Legal Interpretation Network.
One organization would volunteer to lead this initiative and apply to the Law Foundation for funding to plan and hold the conference, develop an implementation plan based on the conference results, and monitor and evaluate the initiative. An advisory committee of key organizations interested in working on the network would support the lead organization. The Foundation would cover reasonable costs for member organizations and they would receive a modest stipend for attending meetings.
The conference or meetings would have several goals:
• Share information about the Ontario experience in domestic violence, court, and health sector interpretation and about practices in other jurisdictions
• Identify priority goals for improving access to language and sign language interpretation in legal settings, and develop strategies for meeting them
• Discuss how to create an Ontario Legal Interpretation Network, including mandate and roles for government and for education, community, and legal organizations
• Identify next steps for developing and implementing a plan to follow up on priorities and strategies discussed at the conference.
2. Develop a plan and funding proposal The lead organization, with the advice and support of the advisory committee, would develop a plan to implement the priorities identified at the conference or meetings and submit a funding proposal to the Law Foundation and other potential funders. The plan would include strategies for sustaining the momentum of the Ontario Legal Interpretation Network over time, including identification of lead partners and a shared funding model. The funding proposal would include a monitoring and evaluation framework for the initiative.
3. Implement the approved plan Subject to funding approval, the lead organization (and ultimately the Ontario Legal Interpretation Network) would oversee the projects and then meet the Law Foundation’s reporting requirements.
Recommendation 4: Videoconferencing Pilot Projects Purpose This initiative would test the use of videoconferencing to increase linguistic and rural access to legal information and services for low-income and vulnerable people.
Rationale Videoconferencing is becoming increasingly important in the health, legal, and other sectors as a way to connect people and to facilitate information-sharing, training, and collaboration. As the technology continues to evolve, it is likely to become more accessible and to become a valuable tool in improving access to justice. For example, videoconferencing could improve rural access to training for community workers when distance, weather, or a lack of transportation make meeting in person difficult or expensive, and it could make it possible for clients to meet with legal professionals. It could also link clients, community organizations, and legal professionals with language and sign language interpreters.
We recommend exploring videoconferencing solutions through pilot projects to support three of
our other recommendations:
• Test videoconferencing, as part of Building Community Capacity, for training non-legal community organizations in providing basic legal information and referral to their clients
• Implement a videoconferencing pilot project, as part of the Regional Planning Model, to support local priorities such as improving rural access by connecting legal service providers to specialists, community organizations, clients, or one another
• Explore videoconferencing as a tool to provide access to language and sign language interpreters in legal contexts to support the goals of the Ontario Legal Interpretation Network.
The pilot projects would seek to build on existing networks, such as the government of Ontario’s Justice Video Network and The Canadian Hearing Society’s network of videoconference facilities. Some equipment would also need to be installed in community locations.
1. Identify partners and lead organization The Law Foundation’s implementation coordinator would bring together an advisory group, drawn from organizations involved in the first three initiatives (Building Community Capacity, Regional Planning Model, and Ontario Legal Interpretation Network) and representing organizations that are particularly interested in videoconferencing as a tool to improve linguistic and rural access to justice. The advisory group would also include representatives from key partners, such as the Justice Video Network and The Canadian Hearing Society.
The implementation coordinator could also explore whether a legal or non-legal organization would want to oversee implementation, with some support from the Law Foundation.
2. Develop pilot projects The implementation coordinator and advisory group would develop terms of reference for three or four specific pilot projects. The terms of reference would include project goals and descriptions, roles and responsibilities, and plans for communication and for implementing, monitoring, and evaluating the projects. An organization that is part of the related initiative (i.e., Building Community Capacity, Regional Planning Model, and Ontario Legal Interpretation Network) would lead each pilot project. Memorandums of understanding between the Law Foundation and the videoconferencing partners would specify roles and responsibilities for each pilot project.
3. Seek approval and funding Lead organizations would seek Law Foundation approval and funding to implement and evaluate their pilot project.
4. Implement and evaluate the projects A critical part of the pilots would be to evaluate them and to make recommendations for the future of the projects (e.g., continue, adjust, expand, discontinue). The implementation coordinator would take the lead on this initially, with input from the advisory committee.
Recommendation 5: Articling Fellowships Purpose In this initiative, the Law Foundation would fund 10 articling positions to improve linguistic and rural access to legal information and services for low-income or vulnerable people.
Rationale Based on our research and consultation, we believe strongly that people should receive legal information and services in their first language whenever possible. Even for people who have some facility in English or French as a second language, the complexity of the law can make communicating in a second language, or working through an interpreter, extremely challenging, especially in times of stress. Legal service organizations often want to serve specific client populations in their own language, but they have limited capacity to do so.
We also believe that clients in rural and remote areas should have, where possible, direct access to legal practitioners. Although technology is often necessary to bridge the distance, direct contact is still preferable. However, legal service organizations serving rural populations face serious challenges in reaching low-income or vulnerable clients across large geographic areas.
By funding articling students in these two types of organizations, the Law Foundation would be making an immediate, concrete difference to serving the target populations during the articling periods. Ideally, the articling experience would also influence the type of legal practice the students would choose upon becoming lawyers, thus increasing the number of lawyers who could work with vulnerable clients in their first language or with clients in rural or remote communities.
Description Under this initiative, the Law Foundation would fund
• Five new articling positions to enhance the capacity of organizations to provide legal services to clients in their first language
• Five new articling positions to enhance the capacity of organizations that provide legal services to clients in rural or remote areas.
Articling students hired for the linguistic positions would speak the desired language fluently in addition to English or French. Specialty legal clinics that focus on particular linguistic or cultural communities, general service clinics that have a significant multilingual client base, and public interest organizations that are not part of the Legal Aid Ontario network would be interested in such placements.
There would be no special qualifications required for the rural positions other than an interest in serving vulnerable clients in rural and remote areas.
Internationally trained lawyers who face barriers to finding articling positions and becoming licensed in Ontario could fill some of the 10 positions. Such lawyers, if they are proficient in languages other than English or French, would be ideal matches for organizations offering, or wishing to offer, multilingual services. An articling student who is proficient in sign language or who has other expertise that would assist organizations in providing legal services to people with disabilities could fill one of the positions.
Some of the articling students may be able to provide service to more than one organization through a formal rotation or other arrangement. For example, an articling student might do a first rotation at a specialty legal clinic and subsequent rotations at general service clinics in order to share expertise on working with specific populations. Similarly, an articling student could have rotations in more than one rural or remote area.
Implementation A practical way to implement this initiative would be to use the process already in place for the Public Interest Articling Fellowships funded by the Law Foundation and administered by Pro Bono Students Canada.
As with the existing program, eligible organizations would apply for one of the articling fellowships. After the Law Society approves the positions, the Law Foundation would convene a selection committee to review the applications and make recommendations to the Foundation’s trustees. Communication with career service centres at law schools across the country would ensure that students were aware of the positions. The interviews for these positions would take place when law firms are conducting articling interviews. The students and the principals would complete mid-term and end-of-term evaluation forms.
We recommend that
• The Law Foundation ask Pro Bono Students Canada to administer the linguistic and rural articling fellowships in conjunction with the existing Public Interest Articling Fellowships
• Organizations selected for the 10 new positions be approved for a three-year cycle to allow them to plan their workload and to adjust their articling programs after the initial year’s experience
• Organizations working on issues related to internationally trained lawyers be consulted on strategies to reach potential articling students from that pool, especially students with proficiency in non-official languages (organizations would include the Law Society, National Committee on Accreditation, and the Director of Professional Diversity and Legal Opportunities funded by the Law Foundation at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law).