Expanding Role of Technology and Access to Legal Information

Two recent reports on legal needs consider the role technology and access to legal information play in helping people work through legal problems.

A recent report from Ontario looks at the everyday legal problems of low and middle-income earners in that province. “Listening to Ontarians: Report of the Ontario Civil Legal Needs Project” (PDF, 1.9MB) finds that one in three low and middle-income Ontarians reported having a non-criminal legal problem in the past three years. The range of problems included disputes between divorcing couples, wrongful dismissal, eviction from housing, personal injury, and consumer debt.

When faced with a legal problem, the top three places people seek assistance and information from are:

  • a lawyer in private practice
  • friends or relatives
  • the Internet

The report finds that Internet penetration is relatively high among low and middle-income Ontarians, with 84 per cent having access to the Internet at home, work, school or somewhere else. Among those who sought self-help through the Internet, almost 9 in 10 found this assistance to be at least somewhat helpful. The report concludes:

“Technology holds great promise in expanding the reach of affordable legal information, advice and representation. The resources provided through [websites from several legal organizations in Ontario] and other online sources of advice, information, and referrals suggests the potential of the Internet for empowering individuals to engage in self-help. Provided that the websites are accessible, online resources can enable individuals to self-select the right level of legal assistance for their problem.”

Meanwhile, as part of its renewed approach to advancing access to justice, the Canadian Bar Association has released a 125-page research report, “Moving Forward on Legal Aid: Research on Needs and Innovative Approaches” (PDF, 1.6MB).

The report summarizes recent research, both in Canada and internationally, into the legal problems experienced by the poor and nearly poor. It concludes that a majority of low-income people experience legal problems that make their day-to-day lives more difficult, and yet continue to have no meaningful access to legal advice and assistance in many civil legal matters. Access to legal information has improved:

“The greatest strides have been in the area of access to legal information and there have been many important developments in this field both in terms of harnessing technology, be it via telephones or websites, and in terms of creating resources for SRLs.”

But much work remains to be done. The report calls for reform to the legal aid system, support for “access to justice communities”, and expanded pro bono services.

Vancouver Justice Access Centre

Now open for business, the Vancouver Justice Access Centre provides legal help for people with family law issues such as separation, divorce, child support and custody. In addition to family law services, the Centre also provides legal services for civil law issues such as debt, employment, benefits and housing. Within the Centre, there is a Self-Help Information Service, where people who are representing themselves in Supreme Court matters can get assistance. For more information about these and other legal services in your community, check out Clicklaw’s HelpMap.

Nidus Resources on Representation Agreements

Welcome to the Nidus Personal Planning Resource Centre and Registry,  a new contributor to the Clicklaw website. Their resources provide great information on representation agreements – legal documents that allow you to name someone to act on your behalf for health and personal care matters. Nidus resources in the Solve Problems section of Clicklaw include factsheets, checklists and worksheets that can help you to create and register a representation agreement that best suits your needs and beliefs.

Nidus also has information specific to people with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, including a report in Clicklaw’s Reform and Research section called “Experiences of Adults Living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and Their Personal Supporters in Making and Using a Representation Agreement

Webinars on Using Clicklaw

The Clicklaw team conducted our first set of webinars over the last two weeks, training public librarians on how to use Clicklaw to find answers to legal questions. The feedback was fantastic:

“What an excellent resource! From now on, I will always start here when faced with legal reference questions. It’s wonderful to have so much valuable information collected in one portal with a very intuitive search interface.”

“In a lot of ways, Clicklaw makes my job easier, because the site is so user friendly, and informative. This training confirmed that there really is more than one good way to find the answer!”

“I thought the training was great. The site is very intuitive and it was nice to learn about some of the extras that I may not have investigated.”

From Clicklaw webinar

The webinars were an hour long, and involved a short demo of the site, followed by an opportunity for participants to do realistic practice questions on their own computers and then share their findings with other participants. As a result of the training, participants reported a 40 per cent increase in their confidence in using the Internet to find legal information or assistance for themselves or their clients.

One cool element: half of the participants tuned into the webinar from home:

If you’re interested in taking Clicklaw training via a webinar in future, please drop us a line at editor@clicklaw.bc.ca!

West Coast LEAF Report on Legal Resources for Women in BC

In 2009, West Coast LEAF’s Family Law Project identified the need for capturing a snapshot of the existing legal resources for women in BC. Project staff conducted a survey of advocacy groups and women-serving community based organizations, and released a report recently added to the Reform and Research section of Clicklaw:  Mapping the Gap: A Summary of Legal Resources for Women in British Columbia.

The report includes findings concerning gaps in legal information and resources for women, significant challenges with legal aid, and rural realities.

Information About Recent Changes to Welfare Benefits

  • Legal Services Society published an article in their newsletter Elan summarizing changes made to welfare benefits in recent months. The most recent edition of Your Welfare Rights: A Guide to BC Employment and Assistance is available on Clicklaw, and Legal Services Society is preparing an insert of updated information.
  • Among the changes that came into effect on June 1, 2010 are new rules about welfare eligibility for people who have outstanding arrest warrants. Rebecca Cuttler interviews Pivot Legal Society lawyer Doug King in the podcast New Provincial Law Bans Social Assistance for People with Warrants.
  • Earlier this year, major changes came into effect relating to coverage for health supplements for those on welfare. The BC Coalition of People with Disabilities has updated the help sheet Health Supplements for People with Disabilities, which summarizes the current range of medical services and supplies provided by the BC Ministry of Housing and Social Development.

BC Disability Benefits Help Sheets Updated

The BC Coalition of People with Disabilities has updated their series of help sheets on BC disability benefits. There are 14 help sheets for people with disabilities who need to access provincial disability benefits and the medical services & supplies provided by the Ministry of Housing and Social Development. The help sheets cover applying for the persons with disabilities (PWD) benefit, applying for the persons with persistent and multiple barriers (PPMB) to employment benefit, appealing a denial of benefits, and other topics such as trusts and health supplements for persons with disabilities. New with this March 2010 update: three help sheets have been translated into Chinese.

Law Foundation Report on Aboriginal Child Welfare

A report from the Law Foundation of BC documents how Aboriginal communities in BC are using alternative ways to resolve disputes in the area of child protection. The Law Foundation funded several organizations to develop alternative dispute resolution models in child protection law, particularly for Aboriginal children. The alternative models feature collaborative decision-making, where families are supported in developing a plan for their child. The Report of Aboriginal Child Welfare Collaborative Decision-Making Models, now available in the Reform and Research section of Clicklaw, describes 11 projects that use collaborative decision-making models, building knowledge in this unique area.

Video & Teacher’s Guide on BC Court of Appeal

Appeals from court decisions: what makes them important? A seven minute video on the Justice Education Society website highlights the role of appeals in our justice system. The video is a condensed version of “Though the Heavens Fall”, an hour-long documentary developed by the BC Court of Appeal with the Justice Education Society and the Knowledge Network for the Court of Appeal’s 100th Anniversary.

The documentary highlights important social changes, such as the introduction of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as gay marriage, and illustrates how concepts such as the rule of law and judicial independence are critical to the health of our justice system. The full-length DVD and a companion teacher’s guide, now available in Clicklaw’s Learn & Teach section, can be ordered from Justice Education for $20. The lessons help students learn about the BC Court of Appeal – what it is, what it does, and how it upholds values that are cornerstones of a free and democratic society.

Workers Advisers on HelpMap

We’ve added Workers’ Advisers to the Clicklaw HelpMap. Workers’ Advisers help workers who are having problems with workers compensation claims in BC. An Adviser can help a worker understand WCB policies and procedures, provide a worker or someone helping them with information about their claim, help a worker appeal a WCB decision, and in some cases represent a worker during an appeal. There are nine Workers’ Advisers offices, all of which can now be found on the HelpMap.