By Michele Leering
How to expand access to justice using scarce legal aid resources was a prevailing theme at the International Legal Aid Group conference I recently attended. It was a very special privilege to work with Dr. Ab Currie, the leading Canadian legal aid researcher currently with the Canadian Forum for Social Justice, on a presentation that discusses the critical role “trusted intermediaries” have in increasing access to justice in Canada.
Trusted intermediaries are our unsung heroes – “problem-noticers”, community partners – new and old, members of the helping professions and others who form a bridge between legal aid services and the legal profession and people who need our help. Recent national and provincial reports have highlighted the crucial role they play in raising the legal awareness of our most vulnerable and poor citizens and ensuring they get referred for the legal help they need.
Based on the ground-breaking and historical work of Ontario’s community legal clinics and other advocates, academics and activists across Canada, our presentation identified the broad spectrum of learning needs of this special group of intermediaries. We also highlighted innovative resources that exist or are being created in Ontario and other provinces by a number of organizations, particularly Ontario’s community legal clinics. Developing clear strategies and providing resources to support these essential partners in helping to enhance access to justice needs to be an important priority for legal aid organizations.
Later this year, the findings of our literature review, key informant interviews, and focus groups will be captured in a paper that will be shared through the International Legal Aid Group’s website. Our conference presentation will be available shortly at the same site. Sharing our findings with our colleagues from other countries produced some new synergies and we uncovered other promising practices for doing this work effectively. We cannot underestimate the value of working with legal aid partners from other countries – this recent exercise has been both valuable and inspiring.
Michele Leering is the Executive Director and Lawyer at the Community Advocacy & Legal Centre in Belleville, Ontario.