A Clear Service Objective and Active Offer: The Prerequisites for Equal Access to Justice in French
As you know, the question of access to justice in French is so important to Ontario’s Francophone and Francophile citizens that I consider it essential for everyone to understand the significance and scope of the French Language Services Bench and Bar Advisory Committee’s report entitled Access to Justice in French. The steps necessary to ensure that French speakers have meaningful and effective access to justice in French in Ontario are of great concern to me, and you can count on me to continue monitoring this issue closely in conjunction with the Ministry of the Attorney General.
Today, therefore, I want to draw your attention to the first conclusion in the Advisory Committee’s report: equal access to justice in French requires (1) a clear service objective and (2) active offer of service in French.
In Ontario, the right of access to justice in French is defined by the legal and regulatory framework formed by the French Language Services Act, the Courts of Justice Act and the Criminal Code. However, how to facilitate the exercise of that right is not clearly defined. There is currently no concrete way of measuring the success of that facilitation effort by the various actors in the court system. Consequently, as a starting point, the Advisory Committee recommends that the Ministry of the Attorney General adopt a clear and coherent service objective to support the delivery of French-language services in the justice system in a manner that has no impact on the timeliness, cost and quality of service to the Francophone community.
The Advisory Committee also recommends that the Attorney General renew his commitment to delivering French-language services based on the concept of “active offer”, which means that French language services must be clearly visible, readily available, easily accessible, publicized, and of a quality equivalent to services offered in English. I am delighted with this recommendation, since deficiencies in active offer are at the root of many complaints received by the Commissioner’s Office. It is not unusual for my team to be called on to assist Francophone citizens for whom a judicial process was initiated in English simply because they were never informed of their right to a bilingual proceeding despite contacts with justice system stakeholders. There’s no simple way of resolving such situations, let me tell you!
The introduction of a clear service objective combined with active offer of service should ensure that French-language services are actively made available to litigants at the first opportunity. Simply implementing these recommendations would have countless advantages, including the following: Francophone citizens will be able to be heard in the courts in their preferred language; justice system stakeholders will be able to plan proceedings more easily and efficiently; and the handling of cases will no longer run afoul of linguistic pitfalls.
In short, these recommendations promise savings of time and money in addition to greater satisfaction for litigants, justice system stakeholders and the judiciary. No wonder I can’t wait to see them implemented!
I’m planning a second posting next week on another key conclusion of the important report Access to Justice in French, by the French Language Services Bench and Bar Advisory Committee.