Justice Sector Services Coordination for the Socio-Legally Disadvantaged

Strategic Directions for Enhanced Access to Justice

People who experience social and economic marginalization also often face accompanying legal issues. Research conducted in various jurisdictions, including Alberta in general and Calgary in particular, shows that low-income people are more susceptible to legal issues; some legal issues “cluster”, so that some people who face a legal issue often face more than one such issue; and legal issues often occur in the context of and may create or exacerbate other problems, such as health issues, financial pressures and relationship breakdown. While those experiencing social and economic marginalization also experience related legal issues, addressing those issues can be difficult due to the complexity of the system. Although many programs and services exist to assist people in accessing and navigating the legal system, this service network can be equally complex. Many are not aware of available services and resources, including service providers. The basis on which legal services are provided is inconsistent, while many programs to assist people in accessing and navigating the legal system centre on courts even though most legal issues do not go to court. In order to increase access justice services that can support people, there must be greater coordination and integration between and among services. Increasing access to justice through more effective service integration will increase the ability of low-income individuals to resolve legal issues that may precipitate or exacerbate conditions of poverty, or hinder their ability to move out of poverty. This will also enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the service delivery system, freeing resources to increase the ability of providers to meet the demand for service in a time of constrained resources. While it is acknowledged that greater service coordination is important, there are significant challenges to achieving that goal. Barriers include limits on information sharing due to privacy legislation and professional protocols; restrictive funding arrangements; competing mandates and technical limitations among others. There is also incomplete knowledge about the nature and extent of gaps and barriers from the perspective of marginalized people. To address this knowledge gap, the Canadian Poverty Institute (CPI) undertook an inquiry into the coordination of justice sector services in Alberta on behalf of the Justice Sector Constellation of Enough for All, Calgary’s Poverty Reduction Initiative. The purpose of this research is to support greater service coordination and integration in the justice services sector by identifying the key barriers to increased coordination and integration, and reviewing best practices leading to the development of recommendations that can overcome the barriers identified. The project focused on the following objectives: a. Develop a high-level schematic of justice sector services within the province, showing flows and gaps among services, in both civil and criminal matters; b. Identify barriers to coordinated service provision, arising from compliance or attempted compliance with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Alberta); c. Identify how service gaps and barriers to coordinated service provision have been addressed in other jurisdictions; and, d. Make recommendations to enhance service coordination and integration within the justice sector. Following an extensive literature review, key informant interviews, focus groups and a systems mapping process, key issues and recommendations were identified and developed.

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