Mark your calendars – the week of January 24th to January 31st, 2021 has been proclaimed Access to Justice Week in the province of British Columbia!

Access to Justice Week is an opportunity to engage with the access to justice movement taking place in British Columbia and beyond. It is a great way to start the New Year, learning about inspiring changes we can make to improve the justice system by putting its users at the centre of our decisions and processes.

This year, perhaps more than ever, is a time to consider how to innovate within the justice system. Covid-19 has had a major impact on access to justice, while at the same time presenting opportunities to create a long-term, positive impact. I have been so impressed with the resilience and creativity of lawyers, self-represented litigants, judges and government to find ways to keep going in the face of the immense challenges.

An example of this is the excellent work that the Provincial Court and the Ministry of Attorney General are doing in trying out, in Victoria and Surrey, a new approach to family law disputes. The disputes, when appropriate, are diverted early on to the Justice Access Centres for mediation (online during the pandemic) and referral to other legal and non-legal services. This is a way to reduce, in the pandemic, the need for in-person family law hearings before a judge. More importantly, in the longer term it serves children and families by de-escalating conflict and increasing their capacity to deal with their issues collaboratively.

Access to Justice Week will include a number of events hosted at the province’s three law schools. You can check the Access to Justice Week website to find out more. New events will be posted and updated on an ongoing basis, so check back later too, and feel free to tweet about it. If you or your organization is planning an event and would like it posted on the A2J week website, send it to tdudfield@cbabc.org.

Also, I encourage legal professionals to tune into Transforming Legal Practice: Lawyers Increasing Access to Justice on January 27, 2021. This event will feature a panel of BC lawyers who have transformed their practices to better meet the legal needs of their clients in a cost-effective way. The keynote speaker will be Rebecca Sandefur, Arizona State University professor and American Bar Foundation fellow.

I hope everyone working in the justice system finds time to think about access to justice this month, and to do something yourself to mark Access to Justice Week. Is there a change, big or small, that you’ve been thinking might improve people’s interactions with the justice system? Access to Justice Week is an opportune time to begin to implement your ideas.

And if you already have an access to justice project on the go, please share your story. We especially want to hear how you are applying the A2JBC approach: being user-centred, collaborative, experimental and evidence-based.

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