In improving access to justice, PLE activities have four objectives. They seek to help people…
Prevent legal problems
One of the earliest claims made on behalf of PLE is that it can play an essential role in assisting people to prevent or avoid becoming enmeshed in legal problems. Examples include carrying out tenancy inspections, making a will, avoiding being taken in by consumer scams and frauds and taking action within time limits. While there is evidence in support of this function of PLE, we lack the kind of large scale evidence that shows the impact of public health initiatives
Recognize legal problems
PLE is promoted as playing a useful role in helping people identify the legal dimension of situations they may encounter in their lives. The expectation is that people will be able to act in a more timely way if they recognize early signs of an emerging legal matter.
Seek effective assistance
Hand in hand with recognizing that one has a legal problem is knowing what to do about it. PLE services and resources often include a directory of relevant services. These are meant to guide people to the first point of contact with someone who can help them assess their situation and refer them to other relevant resources and services as appropriate.
In the early years of PLE, we were criticized for wanting to ‘turn people into their own lawyers”. Lawyers and legal matters were equated with surgeons and brain surgery! But as legal services are being ‘unbundled’ and self-represented litigants an increasingly common phenomenon, PLE has been given a central role in helping people help themselves. Today, PLE is often expected to be able to provide people with the resources they need to take some or all of the steps necessary to address a legal matter.
Resources of interest
Documents of interest: Access to justice
The reports and other documents related to the National Action Committee on Access to Justice can be found on the web site of the Canadian Forum and Civil Justice http://www.cfcj-fcjc.org/action-committee.