Access to the Legal Profession, the Key to Access to Justice

Report on Access to Justice in French

We are coming to the end of my analysis of the report entitled Access to Justice in French, by the Bench and Bar Advisory Committee on French Language Services. Today I will be looking at the last finding of this important report: “There is inadequate coordination of the delivery of French or bilingual proceedings with the legal profession.”

In its description of the problem, the Advisory Committee notes the critical role that lawyers play in access to justice in French, and it draws a threefold conclusion: (1) lawyers must be capable of informing citizens of their language rights in the legal system; (2) there must be enough bilingual lawyers to meet Francophones’ representation needs; and (3) Francophone litigants must have easy access to those lawyers.

Interestingly, this threefold finding leads to recommendations that involve three stakeholders: the Law Society of Upper Canada, law schools and Legal Aid Ontario.

As the body that regulates the legal profession, the Law Society (whose Rules of Professional Conduct clearly state, by the way, that lawyers are required to inform their clients of their French-language rights relating to their cases) could make knowledge of language rights a licensing requirement and include training on those rights in its professional development programs; law schools could redesign their programs to incorporate training on language rights and specialized French-language education; and Legal Aid Ontario, which plays a key role in access to justice in the province, especially through its legal clinics and duty counsel, could (1) review the availability and delivery of its own French-language services and (2) work with the other stakeholders in the judicial system to support the active offer of language rights information to litigants, the preparation of a list of all French-speaking lawyers in the province, and easier access to those bilingual professionals for Francophone litigants.

Although, strictly speaking, a number of points covered by the Advisory Committee in the analysis supporting its last finding are beyond the scope of the French Language Services Act, the issue concerns me because my team regularly receives requests and complaints regarding lawyers’ role in access to justice in French, because the Commissioner’s Office maintains close, constructive relations with various stakeholders in the justice system, and because I myself am a lawyer.

I cannot endorse too strongly the Advisory Committee’s conclusions regarding the legal profession’s vital role in access to justice in French, and I hope to be fortunate enough to work closely with justice system stakeholders over the next few months in support of the efforts that the profession will make on behalf of this noble cause.

In the near future, I will revisit the Access to Justice in French report one last time in my blog to summarize and wrap up my series of posts on the subject.

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