Access Committee to Improve Justice System

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Leaders in the provincial justice system are working together to make the system better for Nova Scotians.

The Access to Justice Co-ordinating Committee is finding ways to make Nova Scotia's family, civil and criminal court systems more efficient and effective, less costly and easier to navigate. Justice Minister Lena Metlege Diab and Chief Justice Michael MacDonald will lead the committee.

"We want Nova Scotians to continue to believe in their justice system and know that it will protect and support them when they need it," said Ms. Metlege Diab. "The system isn't perfect and these changes won't happen overnight. But we are committed to working together to make our system better and to put people first, every step of the way."

The six-member committee also includes:
-- Rene Gallant, president of the Nova Scotia Barristers Society
-- Robyn Elliott, president of the Canadian Bar Association, Nova Scotia Branch
-- Kimberley Brooks, dean of Dalhousie University's Schulich School of Law
-- Rev. Linda Yates, public representative

"As a committee, we will work to identify and promote the great work that is already being done, and introduce new initiatives," said Chief Justice MacDonald. "The intent is to provide leadership so that all initiatives are as successful as possible."

The committee will act on recommendations outlined in reports released last year by the National Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters and the Canadian Bar Association. In the National Action Committee's report, A Roadmap for Change, the chair of the committee and Supreme Court of Canada Justice Thomas Cromwell stressed that improving access to justice is the biggest issue facing Canada's legal system.

The report also states that almost 12 million Canadians will face at least one legal problem in any given three years. Family law alone affects millions of people, usually during stressful times. This requires a system that operates in plain language, is easy to navigate, and gives people options that are less costly, and most appropriate to their needs.

Government and other justice partners are making improvements to help families with legal problems. More resources are now available online, including the Family Law Nova Scotia website, .ca , and several new pro bono initiatives to fill gaps in legal services for low-income Nova Scotians, such as Access Legal Help NS, www.legalinfo.org . The goal is to get families more information and support up front so they get access to the services they need before they ever go to court.

Work is also happening to get criminal cases moving through the system more quickly. People will be better able to represent themselves in civil matters by having access to free legal services. Also, Nova Scotia now has two specialty courts, mental health and domestic violence, and a court-monitored drug treatment program. These courts hold people accountable for their actions but also provide access to supports and services to make them less likely to harm others and themselves in future.     

To review the terms of reference for the committee, visit http://novascotia.ca/just/resources.asp .

To read the report of Justice Cromwell and the National Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters, visit http://www.cfcj-fcjc.org/sites/default/files/docs/2013/AC_Report_English_Final.pdf .

To read The Canadian Bar Association's report, Reaching Equal Justice: An Invitation to Envision and Act, visit http://www.cba.org/CBA/equaljustice/secure_pdf/EqualJusticeFinalReport-eng.pdf .