Introducing the Access to Justice Centre for Excellence

By: M. Jerry McHale, QC

The University of Victoria Faculty of Law is pleased to announce that it is establishing the Access to Justice Centre for Excellence (the “Centre”) operating out of the UVic Law School.

The Centre is being established in response to the growing concern within the justice community with the problem of diminishing access to justice. We believe that there is a unique role that the academy can and should play in working toward a resolution of this problem.

The idea for the Centre arose out of the Canadian Bar Association’s Equal Justice report of December, 2013, which proposed that by 2030 three Canadian law schools establish centres of excellence for access to justice research.

MANDATE

The UVic Centre will seek to provide provincial and national leadership in research and teaching related to access to justice.  The Centre will: 

  • undertake applied research and practical scholarship on access to justice issues,
  • through curriculum and program development, enhance student understanding, skills and abilities respecting access issues,
  • forge external working relationships with governmental, non-governmental and professional bodies working on the access issue,
  • as a priority, but not an exclusive focus, pursue this mandate with an emphasis on social justice, community engagement and the unmet legal needs of marginalized populations.

Given the growing severity of the access problem and the very costly and destructive consequences that flow from unmet legal need in our communities, the Centre will seek to support a justice reform culture that is bold, innovative and open to experimentation. 

The Centre will focus on activities that UVic is uniquely qualified to undertake. These activities will include academic and applied research as well as enhanced student learning and experience.

INITIAL ACTIVITIES

The Centre will begin work immediately to respond to the many calls that have been made for creation of a coordinated national access to justice research agenda. The aforementioned CBA Equal Justice report points to problems that the UVic Centre hopes to begin addressing:

"Canada is plagued by a paucity of access to justice research. This gap exists in tandem with the poor state of justice data collection and evidence. The lack of high quality publicly available data detracts from scholarship and the lack of scholarship contributes to the poor state of data, since empirical research would help determine which types of data should be collected. Other barriers to research include: fragmentation of access to justice research across disciplines and under-development of interdisciplinary studies; lack of integration of recent methodological developments such as internet-based tools; and lack of connection between academics and practitioners … A national research strategy is needed, not in the sense of a centralized ‘master plan’ but rather to ensure coordination, avoid duplication and enable researchers to build on each other’s efforts."

The UVic Centre is initiating two projects that respond to this call for a national strategy. The first is our Canadian Researcher Data Map Project.  The first phase of this initiative will collate, in one accessible online location, information on who is currently doing what access to justice research in Canada.  This will include research that is academic and non-academic, empirical and applied. More details are available here.

The second project is to convene a Research Colloquium. The aim of the Colloquium is to bring together academic and policy researchers to explore research needs and priorities, and to support the development of a coordinated Canadian access to justice research agenda. The Colloquium will proceed in two stages:

  • in May 2016, the first meeting will involve provincial researchers and BC access to justice leaders in a one day discussion to explore and better articulate short-term and long-term research needs and goals. This meeting will also serve to consult and receive advice on the role the Centre can play in the province and to lay a foundation for future collaboration and partnership on research.
  • in the fall of 2016, at the University of Victoria, a national one or two day research colloquium will be held with justice researchers and policy makers from across Canada. The purpose of this meeting will be to begin work on a national research strategy, and to create linkages and build relationships to facilitate future collaboration and partnership on data collection and access to justice research. 

In pursuing its aims, the UVic Centre intends to work closely and collaboratively with a range of partners across Canada. The work to assemble a partnership network is just beginning, but linkages have already been established with the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice, the national Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters, the British Columbia Access to Justice Committee, the BC Legal Services Society and the Law Foundation of British Columbia.