In the article, “Measuring Improvements in Access to Justice“, the authors Brea Lowenberger et al, expertly write about measuring the effectiveness of access to justice initiatives. A quick summary is outlined in the table below:

In measuring initiatives, we should also be mindful on how they address litigants’ traumas. Many areas of litigation arise from or involve some sort of trauma.

In the book “Trauma: the invisible epidemic”, Dr. Paul Conti explains that “Trauma comes in various forms, frequencies, and intensities…”  As a general rule, “the worst the trauma, the worse the cascade of harm that follows”.

To illustrate the impact of trauma and how it often goes ignored, Dr. Conti gives the example of assessing “cause of death”. When people have died under Dr. Conti’s psychiatric care he often thinks about the trauma underneath the cause of death. For example, the official version might be a car accident. But the real reason is a drug overdose arising from the trauma of childhood sexual abuse.

Despite the prevalence of trauma, our medical and legal systems have a difficult time adequately addressing them. Dr. Conti gives an example from the medical system, which could be applied to our legal system. He writes:

[Assembly line medicine] it’s exhausting and unsatisfying to everyone. Health-care workers are given just enough time to recognize a patient’s basic needs while the next one is already in line, all while onerous paperwork continues to pile up. In particular, doctors don’t get the time they need to really get to know people, but you’d think such knowledge would go a long way toward actually helping them. And who wants to feel the suffering of one more person you don’t have the time to get to know? You might as well do the paperwork right there in front of them, especially when your fifteen minutes are almost up.

Unfortunately, the systems in charge of providing mental health care prioritize minimizing costs, saving time, and “serving” as many patients as possible. Is it any wonder so many practitioners are harried and burdened with excessive workloads? And how many abandon the business of helping others simply because they aren’t given the support they need to actually help patients heal from their trauma?

Dr. Conti proposes that compassion, community, and humanity are the solution. Compassion enables us to care about other people and to see matters from their perspective.

When developing access to justice initiatives, we also need to infuse them with compassion. A great example of that is the decision by Justice Mandhane in Ahluwalia. In that case, Justice Mandhane dealt with the claim for civil damages at the same time as the family law dispute. She explained that “It is unrealistic to expect a survivor to file both family and civil claims to receive different forms of financial relief after the end of a violent relationship”.

When improving our justice system, we need to ask ourselves what measures can we take to avoid adding to a litigant’s trauma. Efficiency is important, but it also needs to be compassionate.

(This article was originally published on; Canada’s largest online legal magazine.)