We can make the biggest difference by starting early, and helping people avoid scary, confusing or costly legal problems. So how do we do that?
En francais ci-dessous.
This corner of the internet will be devoted to sharing ideas for effective justice education, youth experiences of the justice system, and strategies for making our system easier to access and less intimidating.
Justice education is the process of learning about how our system of law making and enforcement works, meeting people who work in the system and building the basic skills to manage the legal aspects of everyday problems. No small challenge. The good news is that there are thousands of people – in the legal professions, in the community sector, in schools – interested in finding ways to build legal capability.
A legal capable person is one who can recognize that an issue has a legal dimension, knows how and where to ask for help, and understands that resolutions of legal issues is best done early, with the potential for fair, effective results. To build these capabilities, people need a combination of knowledge about the system, skills for communicating their experience and preparing for legal processes, and, most importantly, trust that the system can produce a reliable, affordable result and that there are professionals they can rely on in the process.
Building these attitudes (of confidence in the system and trust in professionals) requires more than just information about rights and procedures. This is where justice education comes in. Opportunities to meet lawyers and judges directly, to be treated respectfully by law enforcement, to have terms explained by court staff are all easy forms of direct interaction that build trust in our justice system. Critically, these interactions need to happen before someone is in a legal conflict. The middle of a crisis is not the time to build trust. Justice education starts early and encourages open dialogue and curiosity about how the system works, and honest reflection about how it could work better.
At OJEN/ROEJ, we start early in schools, with projects for students as young as 5 years old, and in the community, with youth in neighbourhoods or youth groups who may already have a negative idea about the system based on rumours and media portrayals. Justice education exposes them to the inner workings of courthouses, law offices, tribunals and other institutions that they might need to rely on in the future.
Just as I am not afraid to ask a pharmacist a question about my health, or to call telehealth to see if I should worry about a symptom, people should also feel comfortable looking for online information about their rights, or asking a question of a paralegal or a lawyer early in a conflict, when it is still easy, cheap and low-stress. Justice education shows people the various paths to get help and builds an attitude of trust and confidence that will help them to navigate the legal aspects of their lives in the future.
At OJEN/ROEJ, judges, justices of the peace, lawyers, paralegals, law students, police, social workers, court staff and justice sector professionals are actively involved in delivering these fun, experiential opportunities in community centres, courthouses and school classrooms. They do it because they can see that it makes their jobs easier when people approach a legal problem with confidence. They also do it because it keeps these professionals connected to the community and hearing about the justice–related experiences of the public.
This blog is a forum not only for best practices or new ideas, but also for sharing those experiences of the justice system. Youth voices in particular are hard to hear amidst all of the other people clambering for justice sector reform. OJEN/ROEJ will use this space to bring some of their experiences, in their own words, to the rest of us working to enhance justice education.
By Sarah McCoubrey, OJEN/ROEJ Executive Director