'Access to Justice' as Access to a Lawyer's Language

Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice 10:454-467 (1990)
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This essay claims that ‘access to justice’ has erroneously been assumed to be synonymous with invisible concepts instead of access to a lawyer’s language. The Paper outlines how a language concerns the relation between signifiers, better known as word-images, on the one hand, with signfieds, better known as concepts, on the other. The signifieds are universal, artificial and empty in content. Taking the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as an example, officials have assumed that Charter knowledge has involved signifieds (such as rules, principles, doctrines and tests) as if the signifiers were transparent. But any one signifier differs from another signifier without the lawyer ever accessing the invisible signifieds. Ironically, although the lawyer, law professor or law student believes that s/he is studying legal ‘practice’ and although legal knowledge has been considered a matter of signified concepts, the knowledge has really concerned the differentiating relations of signifiers. As a consequence, the moment of accessing the concepts (signifieds) has been forever deferred. ‘Access to justice’ has become access to the special language of signifiers, a language which lawyers alone are privileged to enforce. Turning to the Charter, lawyers claiming to know the special Charter language became indispensable to social life. Even the meaning-constituting human subject became a signifier, better known as ‘the legal person’ defined by Charter rights. Charter language, however, has deferred an access to the invisible concepts such as ‘freedom’ or ‘democracy’, terms in Section of the text. Access to justice’ has become access to the language of the privileged class of lawyers. The lawyer’s language has become a theoretical language in the name of access to justice. And yet, because the theoretical language has been propagated as concerned with ‘practice’, it has been difficult to challenge the social-cultural content of the language of lawyers.

Author's Profile

William Conklin
University of Windsor


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