Updated: Oct 16, 2018

Respondents’ experiences of Nova Scotia justice system are life-distorting and overwhelmingly negative

Respondents’ experiences frequently leave them feeling helpless, discouraged, angry and disappointed. The experiences take place up to 5-10 years ago, but are sufficiently powerful that they are instantly recalled and deemed to be a life-changing moment. Almost half, however, are recent – in the past six months or still ongoing.

Justice is perceived to be an uncaring, slow system with few sympathetic human faces

Participants felt that there was no easy way to navigate the system and that it was uncaring and bureaucratic. They believe the system does not see them for who they are and has little understanding of how to deal with human beings.

Under “Other” answers for “who needs to learn”, unexpected answers included Department of Justice officials, lawmakers and court administration staff. The majority of these indicate a dissatisfaction with groups perceived as being responsible for the system, not individual cases.

Respondents have given up looking for help – they feel it is expensive to get and that it is a “club” set against them anyway

Three times as many respondents have given up looking for help as respondents who knew where to get help – signposting for low-cost legal support may be a critical piece of improving perceptions. When they do get help, many turn to family and friends but this is never effective.

Where respondents indicate “Money” as being a factor in their experience, this coincided with the significant problems being “the role of lawyers” and “being in a courtroom”, “talking to a lawyer” and, most strongly, “navigating the process without a lawyer”. Many examples indicated that they felt the system was excluding of citizens, while justice professionals are highly inclusive of each other.

Being in a courtroom is a traumatic experience in its own right – and judges are singled out as particularly unhelpful

Being in a courtroom is associated with personal trauma – and judges are seen as having the most to learn out of all nominated justice professionals. Men and women are equally likely to describe their experience as traumatic.

Examples included appeals at which judges did not give the appearance of having looked at cases sufficiently. Fairness becomes an issue where respondents have no clear understanding of how judgments were arrived at.

Mental health and well-being is a major factor in perceptions of justice. Addiction and issues around whether someone not taking medication can be held responsible are key unexpected factors included by respondents

Mental health and medication issues were regular write-in answers to multiple choice questions, while mental well-being is more than twice as frequently an issue than economic well-being


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