«Karen Cohl and George Thomson December 2008 Connecting Across Language and Distance: Linguistic and Rural Access to Legal Information and Services ...»
With the existing fellowships, the process typically begins in November or December with a call for applications from organizations. Interviews take place in May or June after second year law school, and the articling positions begin after third year and bar exams. If the process for the 10 new positions were to begin in November 2009, organizations would not receive articling students until the summer of 2011. Therefore, we recommend an expedited process, with a focus on recruiting students seeking articles and internationally trained lawyers who have not yet found positions for 2009/2010.
Recommendation 6: Learning from the Experience Purpose This initiative is intended to ensure that knowledge generated from this project and related initiatives is broadly accessible and contributes to our collective understanding of how to address the barriers to linguistic and rural access to justice.
Rationale Experience from the measures recommended in this report (if adopted), and from many other initiatives under way here and elsewhere, will expand our knowledge of what must be in place to ensure that linguistic minorities and persons living in rural and remote communities have access to justice. Formal evaluation of new programs is rare, however, and those working in this area can be unaware of promising practices or unsuccessful experiments in Ontario and in other provinces and countries. We believe that the Law Foundation can help to remedy this.
Description Learning from the work supported by the Foundation and from other, related initiatives, would
involve the following components:
Evaluate each initiative For each initiative it approves, a condition of Law Foundation funding would be a plan to evaluate its effectiveness. The evaluation method would ensure that the work generates useful and valuable information that will assist those who seek to build on the experience.
Evaluate the whole project The impact of the Linguistic and Rural Access to Justice Project as a whole would be evaluated after five years.
Develop an access to justice evaluation framework We suggest that the Law Foundation approach the Law Commission of Ontario to explore how the two organizations could work together to develop a framework for defining “access to justice” and assessing the extent to which policies, programs, or projects are making meaningful contributions to access to justice objectives.
Establish a clearinghouse The Foundation would seek a partner organization to establish a clearinghouse to provide online access to research studies, reports, evaluations, and other materials collected as part of this project or generated by the new programs the Foundation supports. Over time, the clearinghouse could become a valuable repository of information about efforts, in many jurisdictions, to provide legal information and services to people facing the barriers outlined in this report and about other access to justice issues.
• The Law Foundation’s implementation coordinator would help the leaders of each of the five other initiatives recommended in this report to obtain expert assistance in planning and conducting evaluations in a way that will generate valuable information with the resources available. The Foundation would also engage an evaluator to evaluate the entire project after five years.
• The Foundation would begin discussions with the Law Commission of Ontario to determine whether it is feasible to undertake a joint project to broaden our understanding of access to justice and to develop improved ways of measuring the impact of related projects.
• The Foundation would consult with those who might be interested in building and maintaining the clearinghouse.
Additional proposals In each of our six recommendations, the Law Foundation would play a catalyst role by providing strategic funding to bring partners together. The full impact of initiatives requiring large-scale collaboration and planning, such as Building Community Capacity, the Regional Planning Model, and the Ontario Legal Interpretation Network, would only become evident over time.
In the short term, government and leading legal bodies could undertake additional activities that would make a significant difference to improving linguistic and rural access to justice. We suggest below some activities that would complement the larger-scale initiatives arising from this project.
Government The federal government has an important role in legal aid, in funding services for new immigrants, and in promoting public legal education and plain language. Municipalities have a role in providing information and referral to meet local needs and participating in partnerships that promote linguistic and rural access to justice.
The role of the Ontario government in the administration of justice and as the guardian of a system that seeks to reflect fundamental legal values makes it an essential part of the solution. The following Ontario government actions would complement the six initiatives
recommended in this report:
• Supporting the legal aid system
• Continuing its efforts to protect the victims of domestic violence and other victims and to make family law information and services readily available
• Working to ensure that the courts and the administrative justice system become part of the shared effort to make information, advice, and services available
• Participating in the effort to share resources (e.g., videoconferencing facilities)
• Participating in building a coherent, high-quality system of interpretation services in legal settings.
Support for special outreach Access to essential information in the area of family law and special outreach to people who are isolated and the victims of domestic violence are two urgent needs highlighted during this project. Some excellent programs exist, in these and other areas, to reach out to provide legal information and services to vulnerable people who are isolated by factors in addition to language or distance.
Family Legal Education for Women, launched and funded by the Ontario Women’s Directorate, is an example of an innovative program of outreach to women to help them resolve family law issues with the benefit of accurate and relevant legal information. The program is a consortium of six equality-seeking women’s agencies, including YWCA Toronto, Metropolitan Toronto Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children, Community Legal Education Ontario, Canadian Council of Muslim Women, Springtide Resources, and the National Association of Women and the Law. Family Legal Education for Women has commissioned a thorough evaluation of the process and results of the project. We suggest that the Ontario government and other funders sustain and strengthen such collaborative efforts.
Support for interpreters The Ontario government is a leader in funding language interpretation services in the domestic violence context and the organizations it supports are leaders in the field. It is also engaged in efforts to improve the quality of court interpretation. We strongly encourage the provincial government to continue with these tangible efforts to improve access to justice for persons who do not speak English or French. We also encourage the federal government to consider interpretation in legal settings a priority for immigrant settlement and integration.
Leading legal bodies In addition to participating as partners in the initiatives recommended in this report, the following three leading legal bodies could undertake strategic, complementary activities that would have a significant short-term and longer-term impact on linguistic and rural access to
legal services and information, especially for low-income or vulnerable persons:
• Legal Aid Ontario
• The Law Society of Upper Canada
• Pro Bono Law Ontario Legal Aid Ontario Legal Aid Ontario and the clinic services it funds are an essential part of the effort to improve access to justice for linguistic minorities and residents of rural and remote areas of the province. Legal Aid Ontario and community legal clinics have the potential to be leaders in the
effort to build a planned and coordinated service system in the following important ways:
• Using technology in innovative ways to facilitate early and fast assessment of eligibility, to connect individuals to the appropriate legal aid service, to provide information in an easy-to-use, interactive format, and to make basic legal tasks easier (such as completing legal forms)
• Supporting efforts to provide services in the client’s first language and to ensure access to legal interpretation and translation services
• Promoting a clinic system that maintains connections to the areas the clinics serve, but that also functions as an effective, overall system that is greater than the sum of its parts
• Leading in the effort to build better connections between legal aid programs and the community services that are often the first point of contact for people whose legal needs are generally part of a larger cluster of problems.
Specialty clinics Legal Aid Ontario funds several specialty clinics that serve specific ethno-cultural, linguistic, disability and other population groups. It is impractical for these clinics to provide direct service to clients across the province. However, specialty clinics are in the best position to provide training and advice to other clinics to build their capacity to serve clients in the target populations.
We propose that Legal Aid Ontario work together with specialty clinics to review their mandates and ensure sufficient funding to enable them to play a larger role, across the clinic system, as expert resources for other clinics that are called upon to serve people who face linguistic, cultural, and other barriers.
Telephone interpretation Many organizations are using telephone interpreters when staff cannot serve clients in their own languages or when in-person interpretation is unavailable or impractical. The Law Society of Upper Canada, the Ministry of the Attorney General’s Justice Ontario inquiry line, and Findhelp Information Services (211) are examples of organizations that offer telephone interpretation services.
Telephone interpretation is not a perfect solution to providing legal information and services to people who do not speak an official language, but it is preferable to no interpretation and to forcing clients to rely on family or friends to interpret for them on legal issues. In providing linguistic access to justice, it is an essential service, urgently needed in the short term.
Some legal clinics have entered into contracts for telephone interpretation, but it is expensive and unsustainable for them, over the long term, to do so individually. If Legal Aid Ontario provided a bulk contract for the entire legal aid network (clinics, certificate lawyers, area offices, staff offices, advice lawyers, and duty counsel), telephone interpretation service would be much more cost-effective. Interpretation firms price their services based on expected use.
With a bulk contract, all legal aid providers could use the service as needed, regardless of how frequently they needed interpreters and how many languages were involved. This one action would have an enormous impact on access to justice for low-income people who do not speak English or French.
The Law Society of Upper Canada In its independent position as the regulator of the legal profession, the Law Society of Upper
Canada has an important role in linguistic and rural access to justice efforts:
• Increasing access to lawyers and paralegals in rural and remote areas of the province through articling opportunities, promoting pro bono legal services, and other initiatives
• Finding ways for lawyers and paralegals to serve clients who do not speak English or French, such as by promoting the use of telephone or in-person interpretation, promoting articling opportunities for bilingual lawyers, supporting internationally trained lawyers, and offering cultural sensitivity training for legal professionals
• Ensuring that the lawyer referral system is accessible, multilingual, and coordinated with other legal referral systems
• Ensuring that the regulation of paralegals does not inadvertently stop trusted community organizations from providing basic legal information and referral.
Online directory The Law Society plays a significant role in legal referral. Members of the public who call its Lawyer Referral Service have access to telephone interpretation and referrals to lawyers, and when possible, to lawyers who speak their language. However, the Law Society could make further efforts to help individuals identify and connect to legal professionals who can serve them in their own language. For example, it would be extremely helpful to have an online directory of Ontario lawyers and paralegals that indicates the languages they speak and their areas of specialization.
Articling program The Law Society recently made an important decision to continue the articling requirement for candidates seeking admission to the Ontario bar and to enhance the program in the following
• “An online registry to enhance information on articling opportunities;
• Creation of a Law Society outreach position to promote and co-ordinate articling initiatives and additional job placements;
• A voluntary bridging program for internationally trained candidates in the licensing process to support their integration into the Ontario legal profession; and
• Streamlined articling requirements for internationally trained lawyers; and simplified administration of the program.” 69 These decisions complement Recommendation 5 in this report, through which the Foundation would fund articling fellowships to enhance services in non-official languages and in rural or remote areas. Collaboration in implementing the Law Society’s enhanced articling program and the proposed Law Foundation articling fellowships would help to further the aims of both institutions.