An access to justice bill that will make free mediation mandatory and arbitration automatic for cases under $5,000 took the Quebec legal community by surprise as it also unexpectedly opens the door for notaries to be appointed to the bench of provincial courts.
Bill 8, tabled by the Quebec government this month, aims to curb long delays afflicting small claims courts, implements a simplified and accelerated civil procedure for matters brought before the Court of Quebec with a value of between $15,000 and $75,000, and will compel the provincial Judicial Council to publish an annual report and be audited every five years by the Auditor General, all of which are developments viewed positively by the Quebec Bar.
“We are pleased that several provisions of Bill 8 echo requests made by the Barreau to the Justice Minister on measures that could help facilitate access to justice,” said Catherine Claveau, the bâtonnière of the Barreau du Québec. “The provisions relating to mandatory mediation and arbitration is an excellent avenue to improve access to justice and a concrete way to promote alternative methods of dispute resolution.”
The heads of Quebec’s law schools welcomed a new bill that would allow law students working at university legal clinics to give legal advice and consultations under the supervision of lawyers and notaries, a development that would finally put them within reach of what law students in the rest of the country can provide.
An ambitious strategic plan unveiled by the Quebec Ministry of Justice outlines measures the provincial government expects to implement over the course of the next three years to curb criminal and penal court delays, accelerate the deployment of technologies in the justice system, boost the use of alternative dispute resolution and improve access to justice.
The plan, while lauded by legal experts for laying out concrete actions to deal with endemic issues plaguing the provincial justice system, has also been criticized for taking on too much in a rather short period at a time when government financial resources are constrained.
A call by the Barreau du Québec to broaden access to legal aid by relaxing financial eligibility thresholds was quickly dismissed by Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier who declared that the provincial government can’t afford to inject more monies into the province’s government-funded legal aid program.
Three years after Guy Pratte and Alexander De Zordo convened a meeting with the managing partners of Montreal’s top law firms and the chief justices of Quebec courts to discuss the necessity of adopting a pragmatic approach towards pro bono, the Barreau du Québec finally forged ahead and recently announced the creation of a new not-for-profit organization, making Quebec the fifth jurisdiction in Canada to adopt a coordinated approach to pro bono service delivery.
“We got the ball rolling,” De Zordo said humbly, a partner and regional chair of the Borden Ladner Gervais Pro Bono Committee in Montreal and member of the provisional board of directors of the new entity. “We found that the attribution of pro bono work was not as well structured in Quebec as in the other provinces. Everyone was in agreement.”