Recently, Canada's Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin stated that
"The Canadian legal system is sometimes said to be open to two groups - the wealthy and corporations at one end of the spectrum, and those charged with serious crimes at the other [through legal aid]... It is obvious that these two groups leave out many Canadians. Hard hit are average middle-class Canadians....Their options are grim: use up the family assets in litigation; become their own lawyers; or give up."*
Every year, thousands of Canadians who cannot afford standard legal fees forgo the justice process. Many who have retained legal counsel have gone bankrupt during legal proceedings. Still others end up in court without counsel, do an inadequate job representing themselves, and suffer the consequences in how their case is judged.
JusticeNet is a program that allows members of Canada's legal profession and related professions to lead the initiative in making justice more accessible.
The program includes a publicly available online directory of participating professionals, as well as a telephone-based service. The online directory connects members of the public with qualified lawyers, mediators and paralegals who are registered in the program. For members of the public who are not online, a call centre is available with trained agents to assess the users' requirements and provide a short list of matching professionals practicing in the callers' local area.
Participating professionals agree to devote a portion of their practice to cases of low- and medium income clients at reduced hourly fees. Fees are calculated according to a sliding scale, taking into account the client's net family income, and number of dependants. Fees are generally below the typical hourly rates. Clients must fit within a specific income bracket in order to qualify for the service.
“Our justice system will be further strengthened with the introduction of the JusticeNet program, as it will serve to complement existing access to justice programs intended for people who do not qualify for legal aid.”
The Hon. Rob Nicholson, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada