The Quebec Institute for Law and Justice Reform (IQRDJ) conducted a survey of 1,250 people to find out how the law and the judicial system should be oriented in order to meet the needs and expectations of the population. Its conclusions are sobering and surprising.
We discussed it with the president of the IQRDJ, Pierre Noreau.
What should we take away from the survey results?
The first observation is that Quebecers are largely in favor of justice that is more in line with their daily needs. This is particularly noticeable in the demand for specialized courts in matters of family law (91 percent support) and sexual assault (94 percent support), ideas that have been in the air for already. several years.
It is interesting to note that, in these two courts, the relations between men and women are in question. This would be a good subject for study.
Second, we see unprecedented support for mediation. This is a question that has evolved a lot. We reach 53 percent of respondents who would prefer mediation if they had a significant dispute to settle. This is unheard of since I’ve done surveys on this subject, since 1993. At the time, mediation interested about seven percent of people.
How do you explain this change in mentalities?
In the 1990s, people did not see what we were talking about. They didn’t know what the mediation was. As long as you don’t hear about it, it’s a bit abstract. As soon as this option is better known, we see a direct impact on the public’s demand for this service.
It proves that there must be a much more systematic organization of mediation services. People need to know where to go and how to do it. A bit like it is for family mediation. You have to structure it all.
Respondents even overwhelmingly support the idea of compulsory mediation in some cases. This is a current debate within the legal community, but popular support tends to demonstrate that this option should be seriously considered.
It shows that article one of the Code of Civil Procedures actually responds to a social demand, that it is not just about reducing the pressure on the justice system.
Could other findings have an impact on the future organization of the justice system?
It was interesting to see that people were offered local legal services. There is massive support for the establishment of neighborhood legal clinics, which could meet their many needs. Respondents would like to use these clinics to help them fill out forms, for mediation services, to be better informed about the rule of law …
We need to bring legal services back to where people live. Consideration should also be given to expanding the offer of existing legal clinics, since people were asking for a lot more than what is currently offered.
You say you were surprised at the strong support for mediation. Are there any other survey results that surprised you?
Yes, another element that emerged in our conclusions is the great demand for citizen participation. They would like to be involved in the proposal of laws, in their adoption or their invalidation.
I find that it reflects the evolution of our society. For twenty years, social networks have shown that there can be discussion. Often, she is disheveled and disorganized, she gives the floor in a dominant way to those who have radical positions, but this speech shows that these tools could be useful to us. I believe that citizens have understood that an election every four years is not enough to express their opinion. We must therefore create other spaces.
This request to participate is unprecedented. To be able to answer them, it will be necessary to find methods which do not currently exist.
Could we envision a system similar to that of some American states where citizens are called upon to vote on various issues at the same time as they vote for their representatives?
We have a working group that found a few proposals and suggested a multitude of methods. There’s this indicative poll question, like in the United States, but that’s not the only way to go. In France, for example, around 100 people selected at random were invited to think about new environmental policies. Today’s electronic means make a lot of things possible.
I think that’s something that’s currently missing from the legislative process, that space for people to have their say.
The survey also reveals very strong support (92 percent) for law education in high school. How is this explained?
It is a request for the reappropriation of the law by the citizens. People argue that the law cannot be just a matter of the specialist. They are the ones who live with the laws, so they should be able to understand them.
And what form could this training take?
It would not necessarily have to take the form of a specific course. We know that the high school program is already very dense. The best strategy would probably be to add dimensions that concern legal culture to different disciplines such as history and geography, ethics and citizenship or even French. The law being written, we could use articles of the civil code for reading comprehension in French, for example. The language of law would thus lose its strangeness.
One way to make the law more understandable, then.
Yes, and this is another desire that has been expressed. In order to be accessible, the law must be able to be understood by the population. A question of language, but also of clarity.
Currently, the problem is not the lack of information but rather its overabundance. Information can be found on the websites of each ministry, on that of the Bar, on those of organizations like Éducaloi… There are so many sources that it becomes difficult to find your way around. There is therefore a reflection to be carried out to unify all these sources.
The poll highlights a big difference between the less educated and the more educated when it comes to trust in the justice system. Could this difficulty in understanding the laws explain this large gap?
There are several causes that explain this difference. It is also expressed in confidence in all institutions, not just in justice. It is a measure of social condition. Poorer and less educated people suffer from the law much more than they use it.
There is also a difference in the interpretation of the question. When we ask “do you trust the courts?” “, The environment of people will influence whether they think or criminal law or civil and administrative law. This distinction is very old, we already saw it in the 1990s.
Governments can find many inspirations in this survey, but are there certain elements that could influence private firms?
I think so. What we realize is that the demand for a right is seldom the demand for a trial. It creates space for another practice. The professional service offer should take this into account. Okay, maybe that will require a change in business plans. After all, mediation, for example, can make the process shorter and less lucrative, but if you reach more clients in this way, it is possible. Even if it is considered that the State invests to promote this reorientation.
We could also give the right to lawyers who work in NPOs to give legal advice, which is not currently the case, unless they are shareholders in a law firm.
Could we also create cooperatives of practitioners? This is not provided for in the Law on the Bar. If we need to change the Professional Code to consider this possibility, let’s do it.
Based on the survey results, what changes should be put in place the fastest in the justice system?
The organization of mediation services and the establishment of local justice services seem to meet a current need. Of course, that can represent significant costs, but how we perceive them depends on how we define the law. And, if we synthesize the survey, it appears that the law should be a public service.
After all, conflicts within the family or with people around you are social health problems and are as important to deal with as physical health problems. It affects the quality of life.
Justice somehow missed the boat in the years 1960-1970, when we nationalized education and decided that health should be a public service. We end up with a justice that is almost reserved for the privileged. Many people cannot afford to access justice.
We are perhaps due for a more comprehensive reform.
After all, we haven’t made a massive investment in law for a long time. Of course, there was one for the modernization of the justice system, but will this transformation really serve the citizens? If we have the means to transform justice technologically, we could perhaps also modernize it socially.