Eden Alexander, vice-chair of the Law Society of Yukon’s Access to Justice Committee, poses for a photo in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. The Law Society of Yukon is putting out a call for proposals for project ideas that will increase access to justice in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)

Eden Alexander, vice-chair of the Law Society of Yukon’s Access to Justice Committee, poses for a photo in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. The Law Society of Yukon is putting out a call for proposals for project ideas that will increase access to justice in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)

Law society accepting proposals to improve access to justice

The Initiatives Fund has $5,000 available for one or more projects

The Law Society of Yukon is funding projects that will increase access to justice in the territory.

A call for proposals has asked, broadly, for project ideas that could fill service gaps, reduce barriers, or educate Yukoners.

“It’s left wide-open, so that people can bring their ideas,” said Eden Alexander, vice-chair of the society’s Access to Justice Committee.

The Initiatives Fund has $5,000 available for one or more projects. Individuals, legal professionals and non-profit organizations are invited to submit ideas.

Depending on the number of applications received, the $5,000 may be awarded to one project or split between multiple projects.

The fund intends to address the barriers Yukoners face while traversing the territory’s legal and court system.

“It’s almost like there are so many (barriers) that it’s impossible for us to know what they all are, or impossible for us to plug them all,” Alexander said.

Lack of education is one example of a major barrier to the justice system. Both youth and adults can struggle in the court system without some basic information about the process.

“Even just understanding for some youth, like how to interact if they have to go to court, what things they can say, if they can wear their hat, those sorts of things,” Alexander said.

Access to lawyers is an additional barrier that exacerbates lack of education. The Yukon’s pool of lawyers is small, and obtaining legal counsel can be prohibitively expensive for those in “middle class” brackets ineligible for legal aid.

“They’re going to feel obliged to argue on their own behalf, not knowing all of the rules and the procedures,” Alexander explained. “And that is their right, and it’s important that they do what they can, but it also causes challenges.”

When people self-represent without knowledge of court systems, education becomes an aspect of court proceedings.

“More time is taken to explain things to them, and justice can’t be served as swiftly,” Alexander said.

“I think courts then see that often people who are self-represented maybe miss opportunities that they would have had if they had been represented, and it feels like justice isn’t being done.”

It’s possible that an initiative project could address one aspect of that issue — whether it be an education campaign or solution to lawyer access.

There’s a myriad of other barriers to justice that proposals could tackle: systemic racism and sexism in the system; language barriers; and challenges faced by visible minorities and people with disabilities.

“All of those factors also contribute to different ways that people interact with the justice system, that can bring inherent barriers and challenges to how they find justice,” Alexander said.

Elderly people are another demographic that may struggle with traversing the system.

“That vulnerability comes out whether they’re trying to make decisions about what to do at the end of their life, whether it’s the cost of lawyers in general, or maybe they live in a community,” Alexander said.

The Law Society, whose membership is made of legal professionals, is extremely motivated to address these many barriers to justice, Alexander said. The Initiatives Fund is financed through the society’s membership fees.

“Obviously, it’s important that we promote equality in the justice system as much as possible,” she said.

“The Law Society is tasked with regulating lawyers and the legal profession, and so they have a very vested and special concern with trying to ensure that lawyers are providing justice as equally as possible.”

The society has also been in touch with the Yukon courts, who are aware that the Initiatives Fund may bring new ideas to proceedings.

“They definitely have articulated a really keen interest in addressing barriers,” she said.

The deadline to apply for the Initiatives Fund is March 26.

Contact Gabrielle Plonka at gabrielle.plonka@yukon-news.com

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