What Is Access To Justice?
Access to justice is the most pressing justice issue across all fields of law today. Whether you're talking about criminal law or civil litigation, it's become the major focus of the legal community, from governments, regulators, bar associations, lawyers, educators, and even the United Nations. It now needs to become an increasing topic of attention for those who use the system: everyday people like you. But with all of this new attention, do we really know what we are talking about? What does the phrase “access to justice” mean, particularly from the perspective of the public?
There is no doubt that legal problems make people’s lives more difficult. They often also lead to social exclusion and potentially a need to utilize other public services and government assistance. The term "court date" or "lawsuit" makes some people a little uncomfortable in their seat just by uttering the words.
Legal aid programs are a form of access to justice in criminal law settings, where your innocence or guilt, and perhaps punishment, are determined by a criminal court, where you're best served by a lawyer. Without this kind of help to people who have limited resources or income, more people are likely to be wrongfully convicted of crimes and become more susceptible to exploitation by the legal system and other people.
The single greatest obstacle in accessing justice is the cost of legal advice and representation.
Similar to criminal law, in civil cases where you've been wronged by another person or a company, access to justice is promoted by law firms (such as here at MacGillivray Law) by offering their clients a chance to hear their case and take them on, on contingency. Contingency means that you do not have to regularly pay for retaining fees over the duration of your case, but instead your lawyer fees are paid out upon a successful settlement or trial outcome.
This ensures that your case is fully heard by not only your lawyer, but by the defending party and potentially a judge. Without a contingency-based agreement, large insurance companies would win nearly every time they're sued by default, since they have large amounts of resources available to pay for lawyers (and some companies have their own in-house lawyers on staff), and would be able to access a better type of justice than most individual people could. This would mean you'd likely never get your day in court, even if you're in the right.