Talk doesn’t cook rice

From its inception, Access to Justice BC has viewed its role as fostering action and not just as a forum for discussion or report-writing. Discussion and reporting are valuable, but for this group, catalyzing action was always to be the focus. For that reason, one of our early tasks was to develop what we have called the Framework for Action.

In February of this year, Access to Justice BC’s third and most recent plenary meeting of our Leadership Group was held. The purpose of the meeting was to build on the Framework for Action by generating a list of concrete initiatives to be put into action by members of the Leadership Group in collaboration with others.

In other words, we wanted deeds not words.

By the end of the day, I was encouraged to see that the group had produced not one, but 10 possible action initiatives: 10 projects for Access to Justice BC to support, to be advanced at different points in the civil justice system.

How did these 10 initiatives come about? In keeping with our first access to justice target, which is family law, some broad areas for impact were identified:

  • out-of-court dispute resolution
  • front end collateral family services (meaning resources that can be provided to people before they enter the family justice system, including non-legal resources to assist families more broadly with the challenges they are facing)
  • judicial processes, including self-represented litigants

The question then posed to the group was: within these three areas, what action involving the family justice system are you passionate about and interested in taking responsibility for moving into action in collaboration with others?

Participants came up with 10 specific initiatives. I won’t list them all here, but they include ideas big and small, simple and complex. In future posts, you will hear more about the initiatives in greater detail, but I give you these examples for now:

  • creating a model for integrated services, similar to Justice Access Centres, that could be used province-wide to bring legal and community resources to areas of British Columbia that currently lack these services;
  • extending court registry hours to accommodate daytime workers, which could reduce the financial toll experienced by many litigants who have to miss work to take care of a legal matter;
  • developing mandatory information sessions, which could guide parties to early reconciliation, make court proceedings more efficient and less costly and reduce stress for litigants; and
  • unbundling legal services, so litigants could get legal help while exercising greater control over the cost by choosing particular points in the litigation where they need help rather than having to retain a lawyer for the entire duration of the litigation.

Sub-groups were formed to sketch out an analysis of each particular initiative’s goals, desired outcomes, possible performance measures, time frame, potential obstacles, feasibility and potential contributors. Each initiative attracted one or two “champions”, who have agreed to take the idea back to their organizations and start exploring what is needed to move the idea beyond the planning stage.

What will happen next? Realistically, I don’t anticipate that all 10 initiatives will advance as far as others will, at least not in the short term. But I do think some have already gained traction and will be taken up by enough people working in the civil justice system that those ideas will start to be realized in the coming months.

It is easy to criticize the civil justice system but, as the saying goes, “Talk doesn’t cook rice.” The February meeting was an important threshold. My great hope is to see the good intentions of Access to Justice BC turned into action and, eventually, positive change.