Justice is the cornerstone of a society based on the rule of law. A justice system that is inaccessible and not responsive to the needs of the people it is intended to serve, does not deliver justice.
Over the years, report after report has made recommendations about how to make justice more accessible to British Columbians. Governments, organizations and individuals have attempted to improve access to justice. And yet the problem of inaccessibility persists. The justice system remains costly, slow and complex, and out of reach of many British Columbians.
What follows is the story of Access to Justice BC (A2JBC), a network of justice system stakeholders dedicated to meaningful change in the BC civil and family justice system. The story is still unfolding.
Call for Action
In 2008, a cross-Canada Action Committee was convened to start a national dialogue about access to justice and develop a coordinated action strategy. In October 2013 the Action Committee published Access to Civil and Family Justice: A Roadmap for Change, suggesting that the time for reports was over – and calling for action across the country.
In the spring of 2015, BC justice system leaders responded by creating the BC Access to Justice Committee, made up of leaders from key justice system stakeholders, from the public and from other sectors.
Setting the course
At its first meeting on June 25, 2015, the Committee confirmed a common goal of access to justice, embraced a culture of innovation and collaboration, defined its scope as civil, family, administrative and immigration – not criminal – and set its top three priorities: the family justice system, changing justice system culture, and aboriginal issues. Chief Justice Bauman was confirmed as the Chair of the BC Access to Justice Committee and its Executive.
Al Etmanski, author of Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation, participated in the first meeting and convinced the group that they should think like a movement if they really wanted to impact the intractable problem of access to justice. This led to the collaborative initiative being renamed “Access to Justice BC” (A2JBC) and the Committee becoming “the Leadership Group”.
Struggling with the How
In September 2015, the Leadership Group met for a second time and struggled with how to fulfill its identified three core functions – leadership, coordination and advice. No one wanted A2JBC to fall into the old pattern of making recommendations for action that were not implemented. The suggestion was made that the group consider the approach taken by the US-based Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI) http://www.ihi.org.
Like A2JBC, IHI defines its role to inspire and support (not implement) innovative initiatives. The IHI has aligned disparate health organizations around a commonly held, high level goal called the Triple Aim – improving population health, improving experience of care and reducing per capita costs – and measuring success in relation to that Triple Aim. Over the fall of 2015, the A2JBC Planning Committee looked at the IHI approach, and recommended its adoption, in a form adapted to the BC justice system context. The Access to Justice Triple Aim is one aim with three interrelated elements:
- Improved population access to justice
- Improved user experience of access to justice, and
- Improved costs.
The Triple Aim is measurable (though there is much still to learn about how to measure it effectively) and encourages a cost/benefit analysis. It is a tool for aligning justice system stakeholders around a common approach to measuring whether policies, programs and innovative initiatives are contributing to the overall goal of access to justice. It leaves it to justice organizations to determine how the three elements of the aim will be achieved. It is also a way of measuring British Columbia’s overall success in improving access to justice.
At its February 2016 meeting, the Leadership Group confirmed A2JBC’s Framework for Action, which sets out A2JBC’s approach to improving access to justice in BC. It seeks to bring about a justice system cultural shift:
- From siloed to collaborative
- From court-centred to user-centred
- From reluctant to risk failure to experimental
- From expert driven to evidence informed.
At its February 2016 meeting, the Leadership Group engaged in a process to determine what initiatives would demonstrate the Framework for Action and attract the necessary commitment to action among the stakeholders. Ultimately three A2JBC initiatives emerged:
Since then, A2JBC working groups have been set up to support the development of each of these three initiatives.
A Measurement Working Group met to consider how to effectively align the justice sector around a common approach to measurement of access to justice. Over the course of many meetings, a Measurement Framework was developed, which was confirmed at the May 2017 Leadership Group meeting. Work is currently being done on a companion guidebook for practical application, and a 2018 promotion campaign is being developed.
Further reflections on strategy
At its November 2016 meeting, the Leadership Group reflected on its experience to date and what it said about how A2JBC could make a difference. In early January 2017, building on those reflections, the Executive and Planning Committees clarified A2JBC’s role as a social impact network that connects organizations and individuals committed to access to justice, and aligns them around common strategies. From that meeting, there emerged an understanding that A2JBC is looking, in the long term, for transformative not just incremental change to the justice system.
Following the January meeting, the Executive agreed to a 2017 work plan. Engagement was identified as a top strategy – a requirement if A2JBC is to grow into a robust network that can impact access to justice. The Engagement Committee is working on an engagement strategy that will be implemented in 2018.
Working with the BC Aboriginal Justice Council
Another A2JBC priority is working collaboratively with the BC Aboriginal Justice Council. In early 2016, Chief Justice Bauman met council members and was invited to attend an Aboriginal Justice Council meeting. The Aboriginal Justice Council has assigned Council Member Colleen Spier to be their liaison member with Access to Justice BC.
In late 2016/early 2017, a small group, including Provincial Court Chief Judge Crabtree and Aboriginal Justice Council members, met twice to explore areas of common interest. Indigenization of the child protection justice system was identified as a priority. There are ongoing discussions about a possible A2JBC Indigenous initiative to be developed in partnership with a First Nations community.
This is not the end of the story, but rather the beginning. The Leadership Group met in May 2017. A new Steering Committee is being formed to replace the Executive and Planning Committees. The Engagement Committee, Measurement Working Group and working groups related to each initiative continue to do their work. The initiatives themselves are growing and have developed in unexpected ways.
Transformative change is always difficult. It does not come quickly, but it has begun in BC with an understanding that it must involve organizations across the justice sector and the users of the justice system. As BC’s access to justice movement grows stronger, the opportunities to address issues that impact access to justice will continue to emerge.