Some people have looked beyond court challenges and argue that, despite the Charter’s failure to constitutionalize legal aid, it has increased access to justice when examined through a different lens.
Despite the fact that the Charter has failed to significantly reform the provision of legal aid services to the poor, it has changed many Canadians’ expectations about their legal equality rights. This has encouraged disadvantaged individuals and/or marginalized groups to use the Charter to challenge long-standing practices. In this way, it provides a catalyst for social justice goals.
Others have built on this argument, and noted that the Charter has marked a significant change in the demographic composition of law schools. The Charter has also created a culture that significantly engages with equality issues. As such, it is arguable that the Charter has significantly impacted the face and thinking of the legal profession. This more diverse population and rights-based thinking has brought with it an increased accessibility to the broader public.
Lastly, others have argued that we ought to look beyond the Courts and consider the role of provincial law societies and law commissions in advancing a right to access justice. These societies can go beyond what a Court can do, because they can consider issues over a long period of time outside the context of legal arguments. With this broader mandate, law societies can engage different communities in conversations and enhance public awareness about law reform and the capacities of the legal system. They can take this information to impose standards of practice and possibly, increase pro bono expectations for its members.
These broader perspectives suggest that the Charter has (or can) increase access to justice by encouraging more diverse groups of people to assert their Charter rights. The next section explores what the Courts have to say about facilitating access to Charter litigation. There have been some interesting developments in this area.