Access to Justice Week BC (Feb 7-11) aims to increase awareness of the access to justice crisis in BC in a way that inspires engagement to help address it by closing gaps in the legal system.
Increasing access to justice is our primary goal at LawMatters. By working with public libraries around the province, we work towards providing local access to legal information our community members need. This overarching principle underpins all of our activities, including the series of Community Forums we co-hosted throughout 2021 with PovNet and Legal Aid BC. Those discussions confirmed what we have always known: library workers across the province contribute towards greater access to justice every day. Every time they respond to someone seeking legal information—whether related to their home, family, or work—they are helping provide access to justice. By assisting with these reference questions, selecting reliable legal materials for our collections, and partnering with other agencies to ensure effective referrals, we are all working toward decreasing gaps in the justice system and ensuring access to justice for all.
In acknowledgement of Access to Justice Week BC, we wanted to shine a light on how public libraries across the province, the country, and beyond are working to address access to justice issues in their own communities.
Partnerships between libraries and legal help organizations or lawyers can be a vital part of providing access to justice; it can be complicated and costly to resolve legal matters and people often need to seek help from free or low-cost legal help organizations to assist them. Increased knowledge of local legal helpers can ensure effective referrals at the reference desk.
Public libraries are also seen as natural hubs within communities; having an advocate or lawyer within the library, even for a few hours a week, can have a major difference for community members with legal problems. The SALI project in Saskatchewan is another great example of successful partnerships between public libraries, the legal community, and proponents of A2J, including CREATE Justice.
‘Lawyer in the library’ programs are another way these partnerships have formed. They are fairly well-established in the USA (check out this story about a successful library-based clinic in Colorado), but many are starting to get off the ground here in Canada. The National Self Represented Litigants Project (NSRLP), an organization aimed at supporting those going to court without a lawyer, partnered with Windsor Public Libraries to offer family law help in public library branches. NSRLP worked with library workers to provide support, workspaces, curated resources, and training for library staff. The pilot project also included a Lawyer in the Library program, which was received with great success! You can read the final report of the pilot project online.
Closer to home, AC Friends of Court, an organization that provides free help with court forms, has been partnering with Vancouver and Surrey Public Libraries to offer help with filling out court forms. AC Friends of Court has also recently started offering sessions to help those going to court without a lawyer prepare for their virtual court hearings, also available through Vancouver Public Library. To increase accessibility, many of the sessions are available in both English and Mandarin.
Surrey Public Library has also previously hosted the South Asian Legal Clinic of BC, an organization that offers free and culturally sensitive legal services to those who self-identify as South Asian. Virtual legal clinics from SALC BC continue currently, again made possible through partnership, this time with Access Pro Bono.
If you’re interested in establishing a similar partnership in your library, we’d love to support you! Feel free to get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Reliable legal information is also an important part of resolving legal problems, giving people the knowledge they need to proceed with their legal matter. Public libraries are an important part of this mission, as we can use our unique skillset to locate reliable information, both online and within print collections. Keep your eyes on this blog in the next few months for our next grant cycle, the 2022 Starter Legal Display Kit, and other collection materials!
Throughout this week, there will be a lot of great events aimed toward learning more about access to justice issues in BC and how to work toward solving them. Check out the A2J Week BC website and twitter for a full list of events!
Also make sure to register for our upcoming webinar, hosted by Clicklaw, Courthouse Libraries BC, and LawMatters!
Supporting Self Represented Litigants in Provincial Court
Feb 24 from 12:45-1:45 PM (PST)
Our panelists, Provincial Court judges, will speak about resources available to those going to Provincial Court without a lawyer. Topics will include information on the type of matters the BCPC handles, how to prepare for court appearances both in-person and virtually, and resources to assist litigants in preparing documents for court. This will be followed by a Q&A period.