BC Chief Justice announces “Access to Justice BC”

By: M. Jerry McHale, QC

By news release, on March 15, 2016, the Chief Justice of British Columbia, the Honourable Robert Bauman, announced the formation of Access to Justice BC – a diverse group of justice system stakeholders committed to improving the family and civil justice system in British Columbia.

This initiative is BC’s response to a national call for action arising from the 2013 report, Access to Civil and Family Justice: A Roadmap for Change. That report concluded that one of the “core reasons” why progress on access to justice has been so elusive is the fact that the administration of justice in Canada is fragmented - “no one department or agency has sole responsibility for the delivery of justice in Canada.” This results in a lack of communication and coordination between the various sectors of the system which, in turn, frustrates reform efforts.  Thus, the report recommended the creation of provincial commissions or committees with the capacity to convene, coordinate and align all justice system stakeholders behind the common aim of access to justice reform.[1]

The news release states:

Access to Justice BC will be different from past BC justice reform initiatives. It will not produce yet another report about what should be done; rather, it seeks to improve the justice system by fostering action and approaching the issues from the users’ perspective.
 “For too long, we in the justice system have assumed that we know how the system should be run,” said Chief Justice Bauman, Chair of Access to Justice BC. “If we want the justice system to serve the people it is intended to serve, the time has come for us to look at the system from the perspective of the user, and to recognize the users of the system as our partners in justice reform.”
Access to Justice BC’s unique membership includes the leaders from all major justice system stakeholders, and representatives from related sectors such as health and municipalities. Other members of the group bring the perspectives of diverse users of the justice system, such as self-represented litigants, businesses, Aboriginal people, people with disabilities and immigrants.

This is an attempt to take a new and different approach to the access problem. Historically participation in access planning has been restricted to government, judges and lawyers.  Bringing together a broader and more diverse range of participants signals recognition of the importance of designing changes around the needs of those who use the system, not just those who run it.  

The group’s first priority is the family justice system. This responds to research showing that the greatest unmet legal need in BC is in family law. Work is underway to develop and implement a number of specific initiatives that were identified at an Access to Justice BC meeting held in Vancouver in early February.

Virtually every province and territory in Canada has created some form of committee to pursue enhanced access to justice. A meeting convened in Montreal earlier this month by the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters, brought together more than 40 representatives from these access committees to consider how the provinces and territories can best share ideas, exchange information and coordinate their work. 

The Access to Justice BC webpage is located at  http://accesstojusticebc.ca/


[1] Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters, A Roadmap for Change,2013,  online at http://www.cfcj-fcjc.org/sites/default/files/docs/2013/AC_Report_English_Final.pdf