The Accessing law and justice research project raises the issue of the difficult relationships between the citizen and the legal sector in complex societies. It is one of the major challenges confronting contemporary democracy. The phenomenon manifests itself under a whole host of ways: disaffection with the courts, increasing number of citizens who represent themselves before the courts, lack of understanding of the legal language, litigant’s distrust of the practitioners, circumvention of the judicial institutions through developing private settlement procedures, isolation of crime victims, mutual ignorance between the justice world and the media world, etc. All these situations are manifestations of a gradual divide between the citizen and the judicial institution, between the promises of equality conveyed by the democratic ideal and the concrete conditions for the citizens’ legal equality.
Most States, in Europe as well as in North America, are faced with that problem. All the research realized In Canada on this issue stresses the fragility of an institution that fails to respond to the expectations it arouses; and though law and justice remain guiding references that public opinion values, today few citizens believe that these institutions are really there to serve them. Changes may be envisioned as possible, but beyond general observations there is very little research work being done on practices and approaches that could facilitate a radical change in the law and justice sphere.
ADAJ addresses the law and justice accessibility issue by focusing on three different areas: 1) knowledge and awareness of law as being elements of citizenship; 2) adapting professional practices and institutional constraints in the field of justice to the actual state of social relationships; and 3) the public and political legitimacy of contemporary legal and judicial institutions. These three areas will be investigated and developed in a complementary fashion and will provide the framework for the intended cooperation between university researchers and the legal sector actors. That kind of partnership will facilitate both a co-definition of the research hubs and a common management and analysis of the data derived from the research work. Partners and researchers will be chosen based on their contribution to each research hub. Dealt with as a whole or unity, the research program is seen as a tool for mobilizing the legal community and the university community. It provides a new space for interaction between the research sector and the practice sphere.
The ADAJ team, headed by professor Pierre Noreau (Université de Montréal), brings together 34 co-researchers, 7 collaborators and some 50 partners from the institutional sector, the professional community, community groups (NGOs), and the university community. This research program will provide training for more than 150 students from a variety of disciplines, and in that way will contribute to the development of the next generation of researchers in the field of interdisciplinary law research. As for the expected results, the program includes 20 different collaborative research hubs. It is built around two complementary prongs: the empirical study of the concrete realities affecting access to law and justice (five major common projects), and the development of innovative practices through 15 pilot projects conceived and carried out in cooperation with the partners. As for their spinoffs, these projects will allow experimenting alternative practices and developing an open conception of law. These innovative practices could eventually be experimented in other Canadian provinces and, at the international level, be transposed in other legal systems.