The University of Victoria Faculty of Law

Access to Justice Centre for Excellence

2019/20 Annual Plan



The UVic Access to Justice Centre for Excellence (ACE) was established by the University of Victoria Faculty of Law late in 2015 in response to the growing concern within the justice community about the problem of diminishing access to justice, and in the belief that there is a unique and important role that the academy can and should play in the resolution of this problem.

The idea for such a Centre was suggested in the Canadian Bar Association’s Equal Justice report of December, 2013, which proposed that three Canadian law schools establish centres of excellence for access to justice research by 2030.[1] The report emphasised the paucity of access to justice research and the poor state of metrics and data collection within Canadian civil justice systems and the potential for law schools to help rectify this.  Observing that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” the CBA drew an explicit link between the system’s lack of metrics and measurement capacity, and the relative ineffectiveness of efforts over the last twenty years to enhance access to justice. 

The effectiveness of the Canadian justice system suffers because we have an extremely limited vocabulary to describe and measure this system and the ways in which it functions ... We have a shared sense that the access to justice “problem” is growing and yet this is only an intuition founded on anecdotes. We are unable to give definitive answers to even the most basic inquiries about barriers to access and we lack the capacity to pull together the fragmented data available to us into anything close to resembling a complete picture of access to justice in Canada ... The absence of shared views on what constitutes access to justice, what to measure, and how to measure it, hampers policy development and decision-making in the legal and judicial institutions central to the proper functioning of our democratic order.[2]

There is almost no tradition of empirical research either in justice ministries, the court system or in the law schools. In the schools, the great bulk of scholarly research is doctrinal analysis focused on legal theory and questions of substantive law. Relatively little attention is given to procedural issues, such as access to justice, and very little empirical research is undertaken on any front. 

ACE seeks to actively engage the law school with the rest of the justice system, in particular with respect to procedural issues involving access to justice and the delivery of legal services.  Within the law school it will focus on better preparing students for the challenges access to justice presents to practitioners. Outside the school it will focus on research and scholarship that addresses the access issue as experienced by both those who use the system and those who provide the services. More particularly, ACE’s mandate is to:

·         enhance student understanding, engagement and skills respecting access to justice issues through curriculum and program development,

·         undertake applied research and practical scholarship on access to justice issues,

·         help to build justice system capacity to better exploit metrics and support performance measurement and empirical research, and

·         forge collaborative working relationships with governmental, non-governmental and professional bodies with an interest in enhancing access research.

Given the growing severity of the access problem and the costly and destructive consequences that flow from unmet legal need in our communities, ACE seeks to support a justice reform culture that is bold, innovative and open to experimentation. ACE will focus on activities that the University of Victoria, as an academic institution, is uniquely qualified to undertake. 

Members and staff

The Director of ACE is Professor M. Jerry McHale, QC and members of the board of directors are:

  • Professor Michelle Lawrence (UVic)

  • Professor Tim Richards (UVic)

  • Kathryn Thomson, PhD candidate UVic

  • Michael Litchfield, PhD candidate UVic

ACE is located in the Faculty of Law in the Fraser Building on the UVic campus. ACE has no dedicated staff, at this point, but it is supported by the law school’s administrative structure.


2.      PROGRAM

Outcome Measurement Framework

ACE projects over the next year fall under seven headings for 2019:

  • Support and facilitate the work of the A2J BC Measurement Working Group and the BC Research Framework Working Group;

  • Continue developmental work on a conceptual and informational foundation to support justice stakeholder collaboration in building a province-wide justice metrics framework;

  • Work with other jurisdictions and academic units to promote national justice metrics coordination;

  • Expand student engagement in ACE access to justice and metrics activities;

  • Complete targeted research projects;

  • Conduct outreach, education and network building around access and metrics issues; and

  • Accomplish the transition to a new Lam Chair in Law and Public Policy and hire an Executive Director to manage the operations and administration of ACE.

A detailed description of each of these projects follows:


 Access to Justice BC (A2JBC) is chaired by BC’s Chief Justice, the Honourable R. J. Bauman. It includes leaders from all major justice system organizations, including those representing diverse users of the justice system. It is a network of people and organizations connecting with each other to realize a common vision – access to family and civil justice for British Columbians. It seeks to align justice system stakeholders around a common Framework for Action.

The ACE Director sits on the Measurement Working Group (MWG) - an A2JBC sub-committee.[3] The MWG has created and published an “Access to Justice Measurement Framework” intended to promote data collection and measurement, and to “provide justice system stakeholders with a shared frame of reference in order to align their efforts to monitor, evaluate and learn from the impact of their respective initiatives to improve access to justice.” The MWG has also published a “User’s Guide” to facilitate use of the Measurement Framework.[4]

The Measurement Framework paper states that, “The adoption of the measurement framework by justice system stakeholders will contribute to positive system change by encouraging a logical, focused and transparent approach to measurement that informs justice system policy, programs and innovations, and by generating data to assist in making the case for access to justice funding.” However, the BC justice system does not yet have much data available, nor does it have mechanisms for collecting data or protocols for cross-sector data sharing.

A separate metrics working group - the BC Research Framework Working Group (RFWG) - was conceived as an idea at a UVic Colloquium for justice stakeholders held in 2016. This working group was proposed “to serve as a cross-sector justice committee to work collaboratively with a wide range of stakeholders to enhance the quantity, quality and accessibility of justice data by pursuing the design and implementation of a justice research framework.”[5] The RFWG was convened by ACE early in January of 2018.[6]

As things have evolved, the RFWG has not been active and there is some overlap between its work and the work of the MWG. The possibility of folding the RFWG into the MWG will be explored by ACE in 2019.

2.1(a) ACE will support the MWG and RFWG by working with justice stakeholders[7] to:

(a) ensure continued buy-in to cross-sector justice metrics / data goals;[8]

(b) articulate a cross-sector justice data vision;

(c) formulate a cross-sector justice data plan;

(d) begin to design a cross-sector data-sharing protocol; and

(e) consider the feasibility and advisability of undertaking a province-wide justice data scan.[9]

Note that these are long term objectives and much of the work for some time will necessarily be high level.

There will be salary costs, travel requirements and secretarial and administration costs generated by some of this work.


In the 2018/19 fiscal year ACE contracted for six background reports intended to help lay the groundwork for enhanced empirical justice research in BC. These papers are:

  • BC research questions and research priorities: A report styled “What do we want to know about access to justice in BC?” was published in December 2018.

  • Research metrics models in other jurisdictions: Examining steps taken in other jurisdictions to enhance data. This paper will be published in January 2019.

  • The nature and merits of a comprehensive BC justice data scan: This report, exploring the advisability, the feasibility, and options for undertaking a BC justice data scan will be published before March 31, 2019.

  • Objectives and values driving the civil justice system: This report will, before March 31, 2019, articulate possible over-arching strategic justice system objectives as well as ancillary key-objectives and sub-objectives.

  • The feasibility of a justice research data repository: This study will focus on the questions of what access to justice research already exists and how that research could best be collected and shared. This report will be delivered before March 31.

  • Attrition Study Follow-Up: This report will refine our understanding of how to better create and make available justice data by following up on a 2015 study by the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice (CFCJ) that attempted to identify precise outcomes for the 98% of BC Supreme Court claims that do not go to trial. This report will be delivered before March 31.

2.2(a) In May of 2019 ACE will convene its second Colloquium of justice metrics stakeholders for the purposes of:

  • reviewing the findings of the above studies;

  • receiving feedback on the reports;

  • identifying further such research to be conducted; and

  • discussing how stakeholders could use this information to move toward the metrics objectives, vision and plan referred to at 2.1(a) above.

2.2(b) to the extent resources allow, ACE will conduct such further research as is identified as necessary at this Colloquium.


ACE will continue to play a central role in organizing other provinces and other academic units in collaborating on access research and on the creation of a national research agenda. ACE sits on the National Action Committee Justice Metrics Working Group with representatives from Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec. ACE work in 2019 will include:

2.3(a) Convening meetings and establishing joint goals with the participating provinces.

2.3(b) Producing, identifying and sharing metrics information between Canadian jurisdictions.

2.3(c) Identifying and initiating at least one common “demonstration” research project across the four jurisdictions.

2.3(d) Supporting the federal Department of Justice and Stats Canada in national, large-scale access to justice survey work.


This year ACE will expand student engagement in access to justice by:

2.4(a) developing experiential learning opportunities for students;

2.4(b) connecting students to justice stakeholders with A2J research needs;

2.4(c) engaging students in “Access to Justice Week” activities in the fall of 2019;

2.4(d) exploring the possibility of an “SRL Awareness Day” at UVic;[10] and

2.4(e)publication of student access to justice research papers on the ACE website.

JD students will have numerous opportunities to engage in research activities to further both their own learning and ACE’s work. Undergraduate law students will have the opportunity to conduct research on access related topics and to write papers for credit through Law 325 (Access to Justice), Law 390 (Major Paper), or Law 690 (Directed Studies in Law). ACE is currently involved in the supervision of three UVic graduate students working on access-related topics including legal technologies and A2J, the impact of the BC Family Law Act on adversarial behaviour, and the future of legal education.


ACE will produce its own access-related research providing needed information to justice stakeholders on such access issues as emerge as priorities in 2019.

2.5(a) It is anticipated that the metrics strategy referred to at 2.1 above and the directions established at the Colloquium described at 2.2 above will result in the identification of individual research and evaluation projects, some of which ACE may be able to take on.

  • It is highly likely, for example, that there will be research projects to be conducted in the family law area;

  • ACE also has a significant interest in the issue of deregulation (liberalization) and in the expanded use of non-lawyer legal professionals (aka ‘paralegals’) as a response to the access to justice problem.

To the extent that resources allow, ACE will undertake this research.


ACE will work to build linkages with justice stakeholders and to enhance the profile of access issues and metrics research within BC. Outreach activities will include:

2.6(a) Enhance linkages with UBC Allard and TRU Law re access and metrics work.

2.6(b) Work collaboratively with Access to Justice BC.

2.6(c) Encourage interest in and facilitate access to justice research among UVic law faculty and students; and reach out to other UVic faculties and other disciplines for opportunities to support access-oriented justice research projects.

2.6(d) The current ACE Director sits on the Steering Committees of Access to Justice BC and the national Action Committee.

2.6(e) Report progress to metrics stakeholders.

2.7(f) Publish “ACE NEWSLINKS” monthly, identifying new research and relevant access stories from the media for stakeholders.


Because ACE is a new organization, some of its energy and resources must be devoted to securing basic resources, establishing business practices and bolstering administrative supports sufficient to sustain itself over time. Work on this front will include:

2.7(a) Securing continuation of the UVic Lam Chair in Law and Public Policy. This Chair was occupied by Prof. Jerry McHale until June 2017 when he shifted to a half time position as the Director of ACE. Prof. McHale will be retiring on June 30, 2019.

As of December 15, 2018 ongoing funding for the Lam Chair has been secured, the position has been advertised and three candidates have been identified for a short list and interviews. Ongoing Lam Chair responsibilities will include:

  • teaching in the UVic Faculty of Law and Faculty of Human and Social Development;

  • bringing expertise in the subject areas of access to justice and dispute resolution; and

  • working with the ACE Executive Director to support its ongoing mandate, administration and operations.

2.7(b) Secure the necessary resources to fund ACE’s operations and administration on an ongoing basis. The UVic Faculty of Law strongly endorses ACE’s work and is providing substantial administrative and in-kind support for ACE. This currently includes payment of the Executive Director’s salary and benefits, providing office space, use of university facilities, and administrative support. As of the date of this application, work is underway to locate sufficient funding to hire a lawyer into a separate position as ACE Executive Director. (One of the uses of the BC Law Foundation continuing grant will be to support this position.) The Executive Director will work in coordination with the Lam Chair to implement the program described above.


ACE continues to draw on funding from a one-time grant received from the Access to Justice Research Fund maintained by the BC Law Foundation and Legal Services Society of BC.

1: CBA “Equal Justice Report” (2013) online at 40

2: CBA “Access to Justice Metrics – Discussion Paper” (April 2013) at 1 and 2, online

3: MWG members are Allan Seckel, QC, CEO, Doctors BC (Chair) • Brad Daisley, Communications Manager and General Counsel, Legal Services of BC • Brenda Rose, Director, Community Engagement, Courthouse Libraries BC • Jerry McHale, QC, University of Victoria, Faculty of Law and ACE • karima budhwani, Law Foundation of BC • Tim Roberts, Researcher and Evaluator • Yvon Dandurand, Professor, Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of the Fraser Valley • Jane Morley QC (support) Strategic Coordinator, A2J BC.

4: See “Applying the Access to Justice Triple Aim and Measurement Framework: A User’s Guide” online at

5: ACE Colloquium Report at p. 20: ‘The establishment of the RFWG is intended to create the capacity to ask and answer important empirical questions about access to justice in the province being posed by system leaders, support the development of a nationally-needed academic Centre of Excellence on access to justice, and promote a collaborative and multidisciplinary approach to the policy questions around access… Broadly, the RFWG will undertake the visioning, research, consultation, planning, educating, negotiating and administration necessary to design and ultimately implement a justice research framework.’

6: Members include: Professor M. Jerry McHale, QC, University of Victoria, Director of ACE; Dan Chiddell, Court Services Branch; BC AG, Cris Forest, Justice Services Branch, BC AG; Dr. Allan Castle, Coordinator, Justice and Public Safety Council of BC; Tim Roberts, Tim Roberts & Associates Consulting; Kathryn Thomson, PhD Candidate, ACE board member; Sally Rudolf, Legal Counsel, Court of Appeal for British Columbia; Brenda Belak, Legal Counsel, Supreme Court of British Columbia; Karen Leung, Legal Officer, Provincial Court of British Columbia; Andrew Pilliar, Thompson Rivers University; and Michael Smith, Legal Services Society of BC.

7: Including particularly, the Ministry of AG, Data BC and the BC Centre for Data Innovation. Government is increasingly active on this front.

8: Broad metrics goals were defined at the 2016 UVic Justice Metrics Colloquium. Those goals should be unpacked and detailed over the next year.

9: ACE will provide a report by March 2019 on the question of the feasibility and advisability of such a scan and on the ultimate possibility of creating a justice data observatory. The purpose of a data scan would be to understand the nature and extent of justice sector data available in BC. Ideally the scan would build evidence for justice reform; identify general trends, and deficits, in justice data; create a baseline snapshot of justice data in the province; show how justice data is currently used; identify barriers to better data collection; and inform strategies to overcoming those barriers. Also, the scan will support local research projects and lead to participation in national data initiatives.

10: See