We are mid-way through Access to Justice Week in British Columbia. Congratulations to the many organizers and volunteers whose work has supported the week’s events and activities, which are listed on the Access to Justice Week BC website.
As a brief round-up, some of the events happening this week include:
- February 7th – Mediate BC held one of its free online clinics allowing anyone to meet with a mediator for no cost to discuss their legal problem
- February 8th – BC’s three law schools hosted a panel discussion on innovations in legal practice
- February 8th – Thompson Rivers University Law School hosted a research talk on how to develop a systemic approach to measure and improve access to justice
- February 9th – Legal sector analyst Jordan Furlong will give a presentation on 21st-century lawyer competencies that can help improve access to justice
Access to Justice Week is an excellent opportunity to reflect on the state of the justice system and to learn about opportunities for improving how it works.
Access to Justice Week organizers have put together an excellent video of field experts offering their perspectives on why it remains so difficult for people in BC to access the justice system. As Douglas King of the Together Against Poverty Society explains, many low-income British Columbians don’t have the basic tools for accessing the justice system, such as a phone or reliable internet. A common theme in the video is scarcity of resources in both the organizations designed to help people and in some of our institutions, but the video also points to a lack of coordination of services. Kim Hawkins of Rise Women’s Legal Centre and Odette Dempsey-Caputo of the Elizabeth Fry Society both refer to the “mythical lawyer”: the lawyer that justice system users are told they need to speak with, even though no such lawyer can be afforded or otherwise accessed by most British Columbians. Andrew Pilliar, Assistant Professor at Thompson Rivers University, suggests people need a trusted, barrier-free general advice service that can point them toward solutions. Professor Pilliar says further that the solution has to be person-centred, in order to serve the people seeking justice–“that means not just imagining what those people want, but actually engaging with them.”
I couldn’t agree more. A2JBC aims for all British Columbians to be able to prevent and resolve their everyday legal problems in an affordable way. A2JBC has recognized that putting lawyers and judges at the centre does not work; rather it leaves too many people behind, unable to navigate toward to a resolution of their legal problem. As uncomfortable as it may be for some, what is needed is a culture shift that moves the justice system to meet people where they are at.
A2JBC has been focusing efforts on this theme of person-centred justice in the context of the family law system—seeing it as interconnected with other systems that support children and families. That is, without compromising the integrity of the justice process, it is important to promote and engage in dialogue across the human service sectors. Our decisions can only be improved and better informed when we are aware of the wider context of people’s lives, the options available and their path to well-being.
To learn more about the Transform the Family Justice System Collaborative, check out A2JBC’s website.