Tribunals for Access to Justice in Canada

Tribunals have great potential to improve access to justice in Canada, and the goal of this article is to better understand this potential. It begins by defining “tribunals” and “access to justice,” the key concepts of this article. Because tribunals and trial courts are functional alternatives for the resolution of many legal disputes, the article first reviews the merits of triallevel courts in this regard. It then turns to tribunals, reviewing some objective evidence of tribunal excellence in creating access to justice.

Four key attributes of tribunals make them advantageous alternatives to trial-level courts for the accessible and just resolution of many types of legal dispute. First, tribunals are specialized instead of having general jurisdiction. Second, tribunals apply teamwork to dispute-resolution, instead of assigning all responsibility to individual adjudicators. Third, healthy forms of accountability are easier to establish in tribunals than they are in courts. This includes accountability of individual members to the tribunal and accountability of the tribunal to the legislature that created it. Finally, tribunals can be designed for maximal performance in creating access to justice, by contrast to courts which, for good reasons, resist design or reform efforts coming from outside themselves.

The final Part of the article argues that tribunals can advance access to justice not only by taking on dispute-resolution work that courts would otherwise do, but also by offering authoritative legal vindication of rights that would otherwise be abandoned, or resolved in a completely privatized way. The tribunal promise of accessible adjudication can also be expected to improve the quality of settlements, in terms of upholding parties’ substantive legal rights.

Full text (draft) : Tribunals for Access to Justice in Canada