Making a List and Checking it Twice: Barriers to Access to Justice

Here’s a link to a SLAW post by Manitoba lawyer Karen Dyck:

In this blog post, the writer presents an itemized list of “barriers that stand between ordinary people with legal problems and their effective access to justice,” but acknowledges that the list is necessarily incomplete (being based solely on her personal knowledge and experiences). She then invites readers to help complete the list by identifying, by way of the comments section, additional “ongoing barriers or obstacles to access to justice” facing those we serve—and those we don’t.

Taking her up on that offer, I can think of a few additional barriers:

  • Cultural barriers between the person needing access and the service provider (for example, lack—or perceived lack—of gender sensitivity or understanding of different indigenous cultures on the part of the service provider)
  • Depression or other mental illness impacting the ability of the person needing access to justice services
  • Mistrust of authority generally (Ms. Dyck mentions a mistrust of lawyers, but I think a broader mistrust of the legal system is worth separate mention)
  • Conflict avoidance
  • A lack of available alternate legal problem-solving mechanisms (such as mediation, etc.) more appropriate for some people and situations
  • The power imbalance between parties creating a sense of fear or hopelessness
  • Child care and income-earning responsibilities effectively eliminating the amount of free time some have to invest in finding and accessing legal services
  • The transportation, child care, and lost earning costs of accessing legal services

I would invite our readers to contribute their ideas to this list as well, and to take it one step further:

  • Identify one thing you can do, right now, to help dismantle one of these barriers to access to justice!

 For my part, I’m going to start up a conversation with our intake staff to make sure we offer bus tickets (which we have available, in small quantities) and telephone appointments to anyone who calls us seeking free legal advice but hesitates to book an in-person appointment at our downtown office.


About Sarah Eadie

LL.B. (U of A), M.A. (U of A), B.A. (McGill). Sarah Eadie is a staff lawyer at the Edmonton Community Legal Centre, where she is part of a team of lawyers who practice poverty law in the area of civil litigation. Prior to her work at the ECLC, Sarah worked as a criminal defence barrister. She has a strong interest in poverty law, particularly in the areas of access to justice, human rights, and employment law including the rights of migrant and temporary foreign workers.
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