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Modernizing the justice system starts at law school

2014 Howard Memorial Lecture focuses on how to build a better justice system for Canada
March 3, 2014
federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay speaks to a standing-room-only crowd at the Faculty of Law at the University of Calgary on Feb. 28.

federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay speaks to a standing-room-only crowd at the Faculty of Law at the University of Calgary on Feb. 28. 

When looking at the future of the Canadian justice system, law students play an important role in shaping it into a modern, accessible system for Canadians across the country. Students making a difference goes to what underpins the practice of law – civic duty, patriotism, and community spirit and service.

Providing access to justice to all Canadians was at the core of federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay’s speech for the 2014 William A. Howard Memorial Lecture, which he delivered to a standing-room-only crowd at the Faculty of Law on Feb. 28. Among other things, he highlighted the role of new and young legal practitioners as well as the federal government in securing that access.

“I have served in many roles where public and community service is important,” said the minister, who also holds the post of federal Attorney General. “It helps to contribute to the best interests of clients, constituents and the broader Canadian public.”

MacKay went to school with the full intent of becoming a trial lawyer, but soon discovered there was room for improvement within the justice system. He learned that having the opportunity to make changes, to make the system more effective, inclusive and accountable is very satisfying. And he encouraged students to be open-minded about change.

“Do not hesitate to change course,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with realizing there is a different path you want to choose as a law student.”

MacKay acknowledged that much needs to be done to ensure access to justice for all, stating that “we are seeing a sharp rise in unrepresented accused and our system too often loses track of its essential purpose – to enable Canadians to have access to justice.” He pointed out that greater collaboration across provincial and territorial boundaries is required, and that the government needs to open doors to graduates to be called to the Bar across Canada.

The minister also noted the importance of pro bono work, for both new and seasoned legal practitioners, in helping to ease the access to justice crunch. He commended the work by our own Pro Bono Students Canada-Calgary chapter at the Faculty of Law. During the lecture, MacKay announced the creation of a new federal Policy on Pro Bono Legal Services by Justice Lawyers, developed in response to a widespread desire among Justice Canada lawyers to participate in pro bono legal services as a way to directly give back to their communities.

“Accessibility issues will be a work in progress,” said MacKay. “I’m very encouraged by the work of my own department in helping to make the changes required, and for making access to justice a reality for many Canadians.”