Canadian Forum on Civil Justice

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The subject of this paper is the everyday legal problems experienced by the public in Canada. This area of study is best understood by distinguishing it from the legal problems that are adjudicated in the courts or resolved by lawyers. The term everyday legal problem1 derives from Hazel Genn’s term, justiciable events.2 A justiciable event is a problem or issue that occurs in the normal life of an individual: for example buying and selling, entering into a contract, gaining and losing employment, forming or dissolving domestic relationships that involve some measure of dependency, managing the medical or financial affairs of another person, providing or obtaining services. In short, justiciable events occur in all the normal transactions and transitions of everyday life. A defining feature of this area of research is that it views legal problems from the point of view of the people experiencing them. From this point of view a legal problem does not begin when a statement of claim is filed, when a court appearance occurs or when a lawyer provides some professional service. A legal problem has a natural history in people’s lives as they encounter problems navigating life’s normal activities. Since we live in what may be described as a legally dense world3 in which there is a legal framework related to nearly everything, there are legal aspects to many of the ordinary things people do. The extent to which these become legal problems, what people do about them and what happens as a result of experiencing everyday legal problems are the basic questions addressed by this and other studies in the contemporary body of legal problems research.

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