Civil Justice

Rosalie Silberman Abella is a Supreme Court of Canada justice. This is an excerpt from a recent lecture at Harvard Law School.

“I cannot for the life of me understand why we still resolve civil disputes the way we did more than a century ago. In a speech to the American Bar Association called The Causes of Popular Dissatisfaction with the Administration of Justice, Roscoe Pound criticized the civil justice system’s trials for being overly fixated on procedure, overly adversarial, too expensive, too long and too out of date. The year was 1906.”

“Justice may be blind, but the public is not. And the public doesn’t think it should take forever and thousands of dollars to decide where their children should live, whether their employer should have fired them, or whether their accident was compensable. They want their day in court, not their years. We can’t keep telling the public that this increasingly incomprehensible complicated process is in their interests and for their benefit, because they’re not buying it any more. When we say, “It can’t be done,” and the public asks, “Why not?” they want a better reason than, “Because we’ve always done it this way.”

“It’s time to think about designing a whole new way to deliver justice to ordinary people with ordinary disputes and ordinary bank accounts. That’s what real access to justice needs and that’s what the public is entitled to get. Justice must be seen to be believed. And getting people to believe in justice is what the legal system exists for. It’s time they got what they’re entitled to.”

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