Access to Justice Week BC is approaching!

Mark your calendars – the week of February 4th to February 10th, 2023 is 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 2023.

This year, we are continuing to look at how to innovate within the justice system and embed positive approaches that emerged during the pandemic. I continue to be impressed with the resilience and creativity of the legal community as well as self-represented litigants, judges and government to find ways to adapt to the changed and changing circumstances.

Last year, I noted an example of such work that the Provincial Court and the Ministry of Attorney General were engaged in, in Victoria and Surrey, where since 2020 they have been taking a new approach to family law disputes. I was particularly keen about how these efforts could impact children and families by de-escalating conflict and increasing their capacity to deal with their issues collaboratively. In January last year, an evaluation of the Early Resolution and Case Management Model was made public. Importantly, this report shows that the Model’s pilot in Victoria resulted in, among other things:

  • Only 31% of families proceeded to court with unresolved issues after initiating resolution via the early resolution process.
  • Reductions in new family law cases (-21%), adjournments (-71%) and overall court appearances (-53%) as parties were better prepared and Family Management Conferences (first appearances) became more meaningful;
  • A sharp reduction in cases with over 100 minutes of court time;
  • A 63% reduction in total court time for new family cases;
  • The vast majority of parties surveyed about their experience with the Model felt the needs assessment and consensual dispute resolution were helpful and should be required for people facing family law issues; and,
  • Parties surveyed about their experience with the Model also reported having improved understanding of their individual legal and non-legal needs, the family justice process, and the options available to them.

The law students engaged with A2JBC via Pro Bono Students Canada have been looking at this evaluation, other primary and secondary source materials and conducting interviews on access to justice in family law, to support our work in the Transform the Family Justice System Collaborative. As a result, they will be presenting an interactive session, Access to Justice in BC’s Family Law System, this coming Monday.

Indeed, Access to Justice Week includes over a dozen events hosted virtually and at the province’s three law schools. You can check the Access to Justice Week page to find out more. We also want to build online momentum, so join us by using the hashtag #A2JWeekBC, following the Twitter account @A2JWeekBC and posting about it as well as about your own involvement and experiences on the social media that you use.

I specifically encourage legal professionals to tune into Access to Justice: Whose Job Is it Anyways? on February 7th, 2023. This webinar will feature a panel of BC stakeholders who are considering how regulatory reform will impact access to justice in this province and how governance of service providers can enhance their ability to meet the legal needs of their clients and the public in cost-effective and low-barrier ways.  Another exciting webinar, Neurodiversity in Law, will take place the next day, February 8th, 2023, , which will feature Dr. Lawrence Fung, Stanford University professor and director of the Stanford Neurodiversity Project.

I hope those working in the justice system find time to think about access to justice this month and to do something to mark Access to Justice Week. This is an opportune time to reflect and begin to implement your ideas or some that you hear about while participating in the week’s activities and events.

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.