Supreme Court of Canada chief justice Richard Wagner says lawyers ‘have a responsibility to help the solve the access-to-justice problem.’ The chief justice was addressing an audience at the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers conference.
Justice Wagner, who was sworn in as chief justice of the SCC in December 2017, said the entire legal profession needs to make a commitment to taking on pro bono work. He said, ‘we need lawyers to do more pro bono work. I know this is a controversial statement. You know, I’ve heard what people are saying, in the media and on Twitter. This is not an easy issue, particularly in the context of the high tuition and bar fees.’ Justice Wagner stated, ‘I recognise that not all lawyers are in the same financial position or doing the same kind of work. Any policy response needs to account for this reality. But lawyers also have a responsibility to help solve the access-to-justice problem.’
Access to justice
Justice Wagner elaborated ‘all of you are in this room because you care about access to justice, because you know this matters, you’ve made a commitment to help and I applaud you for that. But those of you who are actively committed to access to justice should not have to shoulder the burden alone. Those of you working within your communities or areas like refugee or criminal law make incredible contributions, both paid and unpaid. In many ways, our society has come to rely on these contributions; that’s not fair to you and it’s not fair to the people who need legal help.’ He added there are ‘necessary legal services that only lawyers can provide.’ He said he admired those who do work which ‘doesn’t end up in the news,’ and implored the big firms ‘to step up as well.’ Justice Wagner concluded, ‘if people are to have confidence in the legal system, they need to see themselves represented in it.’