Access to Justice
The Department of Justice Canada considers access to justice to be a fundamental value of the Canadian justice system, flowing from our country’s respect for the rule of law. Justice Canada is working to advance a people-centered approach to justice that puts consideration of the individual at the heart of justice responses by providing access to information, programs and policies.
Justice Canada is guided in its efforts to promote access to justice by the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), whose overarching principle is to “leave no one behind.” Sustainable Development Goal 16, or SDG 16, commits the global community to work together to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.” Justice Canada is the lead department within the Government of Canada for achieving SDG 16.
Our understanding of access to justice
Legal issues are often embedded in a cluster of other problems that can affect many areas of life, including housing, employment, education and health. This makes it very important to address these problems as early as possible. Timely access to a fair and effective justice system, as well as access to information, resources and informal service, will help support the wellbeing of individuals and communities.
Research supports our understanding of access to justice and the work that we do. For example, we have learned that:
- Globally, more than 5 billion people (two-thirds of the world’s population) lack meaningful access to justice. (“Justice for All”, Report of the Task Force on Justice)
- In Canada, almost half of the adult population will experience a serious legal problem over the course of a three year period. (Everyday Legal Problems and the Cost of Justice in Canada: Overview Report, Canadian Forum on Civil Justice)
- Many of those reporting one serious legal problem will experience multiple legal problems. (Nudging the Paradigm Shift, Everyday Legal Problems in Canada, Ab Currie)
- Barriers related to financial cost, time, complexity, lack of information and availability of services, among others, contribute to legal problems remaining unaddressed.
- Vulnerable and traditionally marginalized populations face additional barriers to accessing justice, including in relation to gender and gender identity, race, culture, age, language, literacy, disability, income and geographical location.
- Technology can help solve some, but not all, access to justice issues.
Transparency and accountability
Greater transparency, accountability and access to information help to strengthen Canadians’ faith in the justice system and improve access to justice. These are key elements of Open Government and Open Justice, which the Government of Canada and Justice Canada actively support.
In Canada, constitutional responsibility for the administration of justice is shared among federal, provincial and territorial governments and the judiciary. However, achieving equal access to justice for everyone requires collaboration from a broader range of partners and stakeholders within various sectors, including justice, health, social services and education. The contributions of governments, Indigenous law organizations, courts, legal professionals, legal aid and public legal education and information organizations, academics, and front-line service providers are all critical to advancing a people-centered approach to justice and the full realization of SDG 16.
Justice Canada has an Access to Justice Secretariat, which serves as a hub and point of contact for SDG 16 and the vast breadth of access to justice related work that colleagues throughout the Department are undertaking. Links to some of the Department’s access to justice activities are found below, along with additional information on access to justice research and other resources.
- Anti-Racism Strategy
- ESDC SDG Hub
- National Housing Strategy
- Canada’s Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence
- Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters
- Canadian Forum on Civil Justice
- Cyberjustice Laboratory
- National Self-Represented Litigants Project
- Public Legal Education Canada
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