This week's issue of The Lawyers Weekly
reports on how Ontario judges are trying to help self-represented litigants with low literacy levels understand court proceedings [Frozen moment of judicial compassion
"The growing number of self-represented litigants in family court is alarming. But even more alarming is the fact that a significant percentage of self-represented people lack the basic literacy skills to properly understand their proceedings. Canada-wide, 15 per cent of adults have serious problems dealing with any written materials and a further 27 per cent struggle with anything beyond simple reading tasks (...)"
"The National Judicial Institute has been aware of the literacy problem in the courts for some time and has provided seminars and resources so that judges are sensitive to the issue. Now it’s time for lawyers to become equally aware. Justice [Stanley] Sherr [Ontario Court of Justice in Toronto] recalls one case in which the stakes were high — the Children’s Aid Society was seeking Crown wardship with no access to the parents — and luckily he was advised just before the trial that one of the parties might have problems reading the affidavit evidence of the Children’s Aid. 'I made a ruling that the direct evidence had to go in viva voce instead of by affidavit, and that the party could bring in a support person to help read the materials'."
"The justices are quick to point out that while these accommodations may lengthen the time required for trial, the primary goal of the court system is not efficiency but justice. Nevertheless, it’s important to enable those with low literacy to be fully engaged in their proceedings and to allow justice to be efficiently administered. Justice Sherr advises that low literacy is now acknowledged as an access to justice issue, and in Ontario there are accessibility co-ordinators in each courthouse."
Labels: access to justice, courts, literacy, plain language