In the summer of 1972, about the time I returned to the University of Toronto as Dean, I developed some ideas on access to the law which I had been thinking about when I was with the Law Reform Commission of Canada during the year 1971-72 .
The idea was to make the law accessible to non-lawyers who could not--then or now--penetrate the complex legal system, whether it was statutes, regulations, or cases. The scheme was to provide written material that could be digested by reasonably intelligent lay persons. It would combine federal and provincial laws. At the time the idea was to provide this information through encyclopaedias that would be available in public libraries and through intermediaries. It would also assist lawyers and legal aid clinics to find answers to problems and to be able to give material to interested clients. If the proposal were to be developed today, it would use the Internet. (See file 1).
A strong advisory committee was established, consisting of Francess Halpenny, the dean of the Faculty of Library Science, Ian Montagnes, the General Editor of the University of Toronto Press, Peter Russell, the Principal of Innis College, John Swan of the Faculty of Law, and Lyle Fairbairn, the counsel to the Ontario Law Reform Commission. (See file 2).
The Faculty of Law was heavily involved in the project because I thought it was desirable to try to get more interdisciplinary and group projects in the Faculty. (See file 3). Simcoe Hall was very supportive of the project. (File 4).
There was widespread consultation with librarians, lawyers and judges, and academics. (Files 5 to 7). Various governmental and non-governmental organisations were also consulted. (Files 8 to 13).
Various funding sources were explored. In the end, the funding was supplied by the Law Reform Commission of Canada, which took an active interest in the project. (Files 14 and 15).
Peter Jewett, a lawyer with Tory, Tory, and who had been my research assistant when he was at Law School, got a leave of absence from his firm to work on the project. He worked with his then wife, Linda Jewett, who was a librarian (she later became a lawyer). They travelled across the country discussing the concept with interested parties. (File 16).
We engaged a number of consultants to examine the present access to the law. Tony Doob of the Centre of Criminology helped us with experiments to see whether lay persons could, in fact, find their way around the present statute book. (They couldn’t.). A psychologist, Professor Paul Kolers, and an expert on linguistics, Harold Gleason, as well as experts in library science, Brian Land, Anne Schabas, Katherine Packer, and Alice Janisch, prepared papers for us. Various individuals assisted us in the preparation of models that could be examined. (File 17).
On February 8, 1974 I gave a speech on the concept to the Toronto Region Group of the Institute of Public Administration, which was excerpted in the Globe, and was widely reported in the Press. The paper was published in the Law Society of Upper Canada Gazette and Canadian Welfare. (Files 20 to 22).
In 1975, the book, Access to the Law, was published by Carswell/Methuen. Again, there was considerable interest in the concept by the press. See, in particular, the editorial by the Globe. (Files 23 and 24).
Although some progress has been made in developing the idea, the project remains unfulfilled. I had the chance of doing more on it when invited by the SSHRC in 1980 to submit a proposal on the project, but was unfortunately too involved at the time in other matters to take up their invitation. (Files 25 and 26).
The concept still makes excellent sense, particularly because of the Internet. It could be attempted by one province and the federal government to demonstrate that it could be done. In my study for the 1997 McCamus Legal Aid Review, I urged them to recommend such a scheme as part of the jurisdiction of the new Legal Services Commission. They did not do so. I also have urged people in South Africa, where there are very few lawyers, to study the scheme. The scheme remains to be tried in Canada or, indeed, in any other common-law jurisdiction.