Access to Justice at the Allard School of Law 2021
Jan 23, 2021
access to justice week 2021
The aim of Access to Justice Week BC (held between January 24th to 30th this year) is to inspire engagement in the access to justice movement and to plant the seeds of change to benefit all Canadians.
One of A2J Week BC's goals is to draw attention to the efforts and projects already underway at BC’s law schools to improve A2J. Faculty and students at Allard Law, through their research projects, experiential learning programs, and legal clinics, are helping to address the gap in access to justice. For example, Pro Bono Students Canada’s UBC Chapter alone provided almost 10,000 hours of volunteer student services in the 2019-20 year to help 39 public interest organizations address the unmet legal needs of low and middle income individuals and marginalized communities.
Below is a sample of the broad cross-section of A2J work being done at Allard Law.
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Snapshots from our Faculty
Arranged by Last Name (A to Z)
A2J demands acknowledging the multi-directional relationship between human suffering and environmental suffering, social justice and environmental justice. Professor Natasha Affolder’s work to advance A2J involves teaching and nurturing environmental law champions. She has worked through programs such as the ‘train the trainers’ program of the Asian Development Bank and the IUCN Academy of International Law to help build a network of environmental and climate law teachers and public interest environmental lawyers across Asia and the Pacific. The focus on developing environmental law through developing and supporting environmental law professionals is invigorating and inspiring because people matter in environmental law.
Power and information disparities impede access to justice in everyday life. Samuel Beswick, Assistant Professor, learned this first-hand when renting an apartment in London, England. In the largely unregulated market, some landlords would take deposits from multiple tenancy applicants and use them to leverage up the rent to the highest bidder. This is breach of contract. When it happened to Samuel, he sued his landlord—not because his loss was substantial, but to establish a precedent. The landlord conceded Samuel's claim and returned his overpaid rent with interest, providing a precedent others could access in articles, blogs, public forums, and during legislative reforms.
Cristie Ford, Professor and Associate Dean, Research and the Legal Profession, has made several contributions to access to justice. These contributions have included: working with the British Columbia Court of Appeal to help develop a human-centred design approach in that court, focusing first on the Fee Waiver process, with possible impact on their Court Rules; serving on the Law Society of BC's Futures Task Force, which made several important A2J recommendations in its October 2020 report and was adopted unanimously by the Benchers; working on the BC Attorney General's Cross Jurisdictional Technical Advisory Group in summer 2020 for dealing with the COVID backlog in the courts, and thinking more broadly about adaptability and resilience in courts and the profession; research and writing on virtual hearings and fairness; and serving on Access to Justice BC's Leadership Group.
Environmental assessment legislation provides the core legal framework for approving major development decisions (pipelines, mines, dams, etc). Professor Stacey researches how environmental assessment laws foster inclusion of the views and evidence of communities which are affected by these decisions. Her recent paper “The Deliberative Dimensions of Modern Environmental Assessment Law” looks at how environmental assessment laws merge three separate areas of law: the common law duty of fairness, public inquiries and the duty to consult and accommodate, all of which can be understood to promote deliberation in public decision-making.
As a faculty member at Allard Law, Margot Young complements her teaching and research through extensive involvement with community NGOs, working on a range of social and environmental justice issues. Margot says, “The legal institutional expertise and training that those of us at Allard can bring to civil society organizations are valuable resources”.
One of these NGOs is Justice for Girls ("JFG"), where Margot provides active support as a Board member for the organization’s mission of promoting equality, freedom from violence, and the wellness of teenage girls who live in poverty. JFG is run by and takes direction from young women and teenage girls who have overcome struggles with poverty, intergenerational impacts of colonization, male violence, and criminalization. One of several projects underway is the Justice for Girls Center: a hub for young women and teenage girls in Vancouver, offering the sanctuary and support services that girls in poverty need to thrive. The work of JFG has made them many friends. Most recently, the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, dropped in for tea and a chat about the organization’s work.
Snapshots from our Community Clinics
A number of community-based clinics operate through the Allard School of Law. Students participating in clinics provide a wide range of pro-bono services to the public under the supervision of qualified and experienced lawyers and faculty members.
Arranged by Clinic Name (A to Z)
The UBC Indigenous Community Legal Clinic (ICLC) provides free, client-centred legal services to the Indigenous community from its DTES legal offices. Students obtain practical hands-on experience managing client files and making court appearances as well as the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to a historically underserved and marginalized community and develop an understanding of how they can contribute to this important work throughout their legal careers. Students have successfully transitioned to an online learning and supervision model during the pandemic, which has allowed them to continue providing trauma-informed, de-colonized services to their current Indigenous clients, with 133 active files.
The UBC Innocence Project (the “Project”) contributes to Access to Justice by reviewing claims of wrongful conviction. UBC law students and volunteer lawyers dedicate countless hours to investigate claims, identify potential miscarriages of justice, and assist in obtaining justice for those wrongfully convicted. The Project serves as a last resort for these individuals who have limited resources and means to gather the evidence required to submit a strong application the Minister of Justice.
One such case is that of Tomas Yebes (pictured here), convicted in 1983 for killing his two adopted sons. He spent 8 years in prison and many decades on parole. On Nov. 12, 2020, after a decade of work by Project students and counsel, he was exonerated. New forensic evidence indicates that the boys died as a result of an accidental fire. This is one of approximately 20 cases being reviewed by the UBC Innocence Project.
Upper-year law students in the International Justice and Human Rights Clinic work on pressing human rights and global justice concerns. Students apply international human rights law, international criminal law and/or international humanitarian law through hands-on work on specific cases with a range of individuals and international justice organizations, including international courts and tribunals, United Nations human rights bodies, and non-governmental organizations. The Clinic also promotes the domestic implementation of international standards. Their recent projects include proposing legislation to combat modern slavery in corporate supply chains, seeking targeted sanctions against human rights abusers, and advocating for state action on climate change.
The Law Students’ Legal Advice Program (LSLAP) is a student-run organization that has grown over its 50 year history into a large organization of over 200 dedicated volunteer student clinicians and numerous volunteer supervising lawyers, staffing over 20 legal clinics across the Lower Mainland on a year-round basis. The clinics provide legal advice and representation to low-income individuals in criminal and a broad spectrum of civil matters. During the pandemic, the LSLAP clinics and for credit program (LAW491) have successfully transitioned to online service and currently have over 300 active files. Not only does LSLAP provide thousands of hours of legal services annually to people who could not otherwise afford it, the program has also played a pivotal role in expanding the social justice bar through the extensive training and experience it provides student volunteers.
Canada's First Pro-Bono Clinic Dedicated to Resolving Legal Issues involving Animals and Animals' Interests
The newly launched Animal Law Pro-Bono Clinic is the first of its kind in Canada. As part of the Law Students’ Legal Advice Program (LSLAP), the clinic helps low-income individuals with their legal issues involving animals and animals’ interests, for example “dangerous dog” cases, human rights issues involving support animals, vet malpractice, or people charged with a crime when they are trying to help an animal (e.g. breaking a car window to save a dog, or trespassing to document conditions on a farm). Allard Professor Nikos Harris and past animal law students of Victoria Shroff and Amber Prince, erstwhile adjunct professors of animal law at Allard, helped establish this groundbreaking animal law pro-bono clinic. Shroff has stayed on as a volunteer consulting animal law lawyer along with the LSLAP supervising lawyer and others.
Allard Law is helping to increase access to business-oriented legal advice for non-profit organizations, small businesses, entrepreneurs, and individuals who cannot otherwise afford legal advice through their Richards Buell Sutton LLP Business Law Clinic. Under the supervision of two senior practising lawyers (pictured here), upper-year law students deliver legal services at no cost and expand access to justice to a range of non-profit organizations and businesses, from start-ups to established organizations, filling an important gap for the community. Legal services include organization and business structuring matters & license agreements, corporate & employment matters, incorporation & shareholder agreements, contract review, and more.
At Rise Women’s Legal Centre, upper year Allard Law students, under the supervision of staff lawyers, provide free and low-cost legal services to individuals who self-identify as women. As a full-service storefront legal clinic serving low income women, the Centre is the first of its kind in BC and was founded through a partnership between West Coast LEAF and Allard Law. The Centre enhances access to justice in three ways: first, by providing legal advice and representation to women who have no other means of getting legal help; second, by creating an opportunity for law students to learn how to deliver community-based legal services and carry forward a commitment to providing access to justice and family law services in their legal careers; third, by identifying cases that have the potential to advance women’s legal rights at a systemic level.
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