Many Solutions for Better Coordination of French-Language Proceedings

Report on Access to Justice in French

As you will remember, I made a commitment a few months ago to review the main conclusions presented by the French Language Services Bench and Bar Advisory Committee in its report entitled Access to Justice in French, because of the report’s importance to facilitating Francophone litigants’ access to justice in their language in Ontario.

In this blog post, I am continuing the series with an examination of the report’s penultimate finding: “There is a need for greater coordination within MAG [the Ministry of the Attorney General], and between the judiciary and MAG, regarding the delivery of French or bilingual proceedings on a regional and provincial basis.”

In my opinion, the Advisory Committee hit the nail on the head in its description of the weaknesses that contribute to the lack of coordination of French or bilingual proceedings. Why? Because it reflects the source of many complaints received by the Commissioner’s Office.

For example, the Advisory Committee notes the lack of formal accountability for French-language services. While the mechanisms are indeed in place to allow Francophone litigants to obtain services and be heard in their language in Ontario, no member of the Court Services Division is exclusively responsible for French-language services, and no single person or entity in the judiciary is responsible for the holding of French or bilingual court proceedings, from the request for such a proceeding to its conclusion. The Chief Justices and the Managers of Court Operations are certainly responsible for the integration of French-language services in their respective jurisdictions, but for them, that is but one of many responsibilities.

Many difficulties regarding access to justice in French could be avoided if (1) just one person managed all French-language services within the court administration and (2) regional or local judges and justices of the peace were tasked with ensuring better coordination of French or bilingual proceedings. In particular, such a structure would foster teamwork and cooperation between those responsible for the administration and exercise of justice in French.

The following are some of the other solutions offered by the Advisory Committee:

– Establish protocols to ensure that requests for French or bilingual proceedings are properly tracked and staffed, from the submission of the request to the conclusion of the proceeding.

– Educate the public and public servants regarding language rights.

– Facilitate access to easy-to-understand legal information, especially about French-language services.

– Install signage with clear, correct French in all courthouses to direct Francophone litigants to the courthouse’s resources and services and to actively inform them of their rights to services and proceedings in French.

The above solutions are accompanied by ambitious recommendations, such as making an effort to improve French-language services in provincial offences courts – a problem that is well known to the Commissioner’s Office (see the general explanation of the issue in section 2.2.3 of my 2010-2011 Annual Report) – and establishing clear, measurable targets for improving the availability and delivery of French-language services.

Implementing the solutions and recommendations presented by the Committee is a formidable challenge, but like the Committee, I feel that doing so will ultimately improve the awareness and observance of Francophone Ontarians’ right to justice in their language.

My recapitulation of the seminal report on Access to Justice in French is coming to an end. I will review the last finding in a forthcoming blog post. See you then!

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