1. BC JUSTICE RESEARCH FRAMEWORK

Justice Research Framework” - A collaborative plan endorsed by a broad spectrum of justice system stakeholders to promote empirical research, starting with the development of justice metrics and enhanced data quality.

In May 2016, ACE hosted a research colloquium with 23 participants from a cross-section of BC justice organizations and agencies.  The objective of the colloquium was to initiate a conversation about better justice research and to explore the possibility of developing a BC justice research framework. 

There was enthusiasm among the colloquium participants for ACE to lead further consultation on the development of a research framework. 

The first step is to bring together a provincial, multi-sector group, the Research Framework Working Group (RFWG) to design a provincial research framework. 

ACE and other justice agencies are currently in discussion on the terms of reference for the working group.   

The DATA SCAN project and the JUSTICE METRICS project, both described below, are related to and contingent on the work of the RFWG.  

2.  DATA SCAN

A “data scan” is a comprehensive inventory of existing data that may be useful for quantitative or qualitative research on matters relating to access to justice. 

The CBA Equal Access to Justice Report states:

Over the past two decades the justice system has become more adept at collecting baseline data, but the empirical basis for decision-making is still extremely limited compared to what is known about health and education. The justice system has a long way to go in terms of what information is collected, how it is collected and how available it is. Overall we have become better at counting inputs and outputs, although not all of this data is open or transparent and there is no coordination across agencies to collect information in a manner that permits comparison.[1]

The participants at the May 2016 Research Colloquium at UVIC concurred with the conclusion of the CBA and further identified:   

The root problems include a paucity of data, existing data that is inaccessible or unusable, uncoordinated data collecting across diverse sectors, lack of mechanisms for sharing data, institutional resistance to collecting data and a culture that lacks experience with and understanding of empirical methods.[2]

All of these are significant barriers for researchers needing quality data as well as the larger A2J community working to develop strategies to address access needs. 

While the participants at the May 2016 Research Colloquium supported the idea of a “data scan”(aka data map) it was clear that embarking on a data scan would be a very ambitious and demanding undertaking.  Challenges include the scale or volume of data, the difficulty of comprehensively locating and accessing the many possible sources of data, and problems in cataloguing data. 

The work of the RFWG is central to the creation of a data scan.  ACE will support the work of this group in the identification of existing data sources.  In time, this may include the development of a data warehouse to enhance access to justice information germane to questions of access to justice. 

[1] http://www.cba.org/cba/equaljustice/secure_pdf/Equal-Justice-Report-eng.pdfp.11.

[2] UVIC ACE: Exploring a BC Justice Research Framework – BC Colloquium Report, p. 16, at http://www.uvicace.com/resources.

3. JUSTICE METRICS

Metrics”: methods and standards of measurement by which performance, efficiency and/or effectiveness can be gauged.  Metrics are required to successfully measure and evaluate justice needs and the effectiveness of justice strategies. 

It is widely recognized that the lack of data makes it a challenge to understand the operation of the justice system, what to change in the justice system and how to test the effectiveness of justice initiatives. 

A key component of a BC Justice Research Framework and the work of the RFWG will be the definition of the justice metrics required to document the functioning of the justice system and to analyze the effectiveness of justice initiatives.  

ACE will work with the RFWG to define justice metrics and to develop the capacity to collect metrics in BC.  It is anticipated that ACE can play a role in improving access to data, including through the warehousing of data, for researchers and others working on justice initiatives. 

This work on BC metrics will assist other provincial metrics’ projects and provide some guidance for the collection of wider Canadian justice metrics.  

4. JUSTICE INTEGRATION PROJECT

Legal needs research has demonstrated that the legal problems that people experience are intertwined with and embedded in layers of social, personal, economic and health problems. This has clarified two important justice policy directions:

First, in many instances, legal problems cannot be adequately addressed without taking into account the non-legal dimensions of the client’s experience. For example, family law outcomes that decide legal issues without addressing the underlying emotional issues that may be driving the conflict, are less likely to endure. In the criminal law context, mentally disordered or drug addicted offenders who are sentenced to incarceration without taking any steps to address their life circumstances are more likely to reoffend.  

Second, the experience of the individual trying to use the system must align better and integrate better with the processes and processes the system offers. As a National Action Committee reports says:

Historically the discourse about access to justice has been system centered. That is, it has revolved around the notion that justice for individuals is best achieved if they are provided with access to lawyers, judges, courts and tribunals. In this paradigm the role of law and access to justice is best reinforced by good laws, comprehensive legal aid plans and high-quality enforcement  ... This report does not contradict the need for any of these important elements of a well-functioning justice system. However, it's primary starting point and consistent focus is on the needs and concerns of individuals: it looks at legal problems from the point of view of the people experiencing them…This vision of access to justice requires definition of problems, setting up objectives and the creation of recommendations that are focused on the legal capabilities of individuals and structures that support their capacity to understand, anticipate and resolve issues.[3]

ACE will identify subprojects that will contribute to better

  • coordination between law and other disciplines and agencies working with common clients in the justice system,
  • understanding of how to align justice structures, programs and processes with the human needs and interests of the people (parties, victims, offenders, witnesses) caught up in the system

As a first step, ACE is working with Pro Bono Students of Canada, UVic chapter, to examine the work of other disciplines on the non-legal dimensions of a client’s experience with the legal system.  We will report out on this work in Spring 2017. 

[3] NAC, Consultation Paper on Prevention, Triage and Referral Processes: Description of Key Issues and Recommendations for Action (Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil & Family Matters, Prevention, Triage and Referral Working Group, August 24, 2012), p.3.

5.  ACCESS TO JUSTICE EDUCATION PROJECT

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This project will be aimed at enhancing public and professional understanding of the A2J issue. The first sub-project will be to create slide decks and speaking notes intended for use in academic and professional education settings on topics such as:

  • What does ‘access to justice’ mean?
  • What is ‘justice’?
  • What has legal needs research shown us?
  • What are the consequences when people fail to resolve legal problems?
  • etc.

These decks will be made freely available through the ACE website.

6. ACCESS AND TECHNOLOGY PROJECT

This project looks at the role of technology in enhancing access to justice and explores two fundamental questions.  First, are our expectations for what technology can accomplish in terms of facilitating access to justice realistic?  Second, how do we go about actually assessing or measuring the impact of technology on access to justice? 

The development of justice metrics is critical to the assessment of how technology, or any initiative, supports access to justice.  This project will explore the development of metrics in the context of the current use of technology in access to justice initiatives.  The results will provide guidance on how we may judge the impact of an access to justice strategy in meeting our justice goals.