Many of you probably remember the 2021 Community Forum series hosted in partnership by LawMatters, Courthouse Libraries BC, PovNet, and Legal Aid BC. These virtual meetings brought together advocates, community outreach workers and library workers to discuss common barriers our clients face in accessing the justice system, brainstorm potential solutions and establish and expand referral networks in each region or community.
We've now put together a report about what we learned during these sessions. This report presents key findings and common themes, and outlines next action steps by the organizers.
Among the findings:
- There is an ever-increasing demand for community legal services and not enough services to keep up with this demand. Legal intermediaries (e.g. advocates and library workers) are continuously stretched to help members of the public navigate the justice system.
- There is limited inter-connection among service providers and a general lack of awareness of services available in local communities and regions. Coupled with a high rate of turnover, it can be difficult to establish and solidify referral networks. More frequent regional-based contact could help strengthen those networks.
- Indigenous people face systemic barriers to accessing services, and there is a need for more on-reserve and wrap-around services.
- Many rural and remote communities lack lawyers and other legal services. Often, strict eligibility requirements for free or low-cost services mean that many people in these communities are unable to access them. These constraints are a barrier to people getting the essential help they need from intermediaries.
The organizers will be holding a webinar on May 30th to discuss the findings of this report, and to facilitate discussions about how we can work together to ease people’s experience and increase access to justice. Please save the date and keep an eye on the blog as we'll post the webinar details here shortly!
One of CLBC’s strategic goals is to reduce barriers to accessing high quality legal information, resources & referrals, so we will be using the information from this report to inform our activities. Specifically, we will focus on exploring ways to continue hosting regular community meetings to connect intermediaries and support informed referrals in regions and communities. We will also be improving the Clicklaw HelpMap to direct people to appropriate local resources, and will continue to support the legal information needs of lawyers, notaries, library staff and intermediaries delivering much-needed services in remote and rural communities.
Intermediaries in BC can use this report to learn more about the current reality of community-based legal services and existing barriers to access to justice. This report also includes key messages to funders and influential stakeholders, in support of more holistic and stable funding for community programs.
Check out the full report: Forging Strong Connections: The vital role of BC's legal intermediaries