CBC Vancouver’s Early Edition recently did a great piece on a new group called Access to Justice BC. The group’s Chair, Chief Justice Robert Bauman of the BC Court of Appeal, and self-represented litigant Jennifer Muller were interviewed by Rick Cluff on the problems the average citizen in BC’s justice system faces, and how the group wants to solve those problems.
The group is BC’s response to the national call for action to make civil and family justice more accessible. Access to Justice BC emphasizes the needs of the ordinary citizen in trying to fix the justice system. Most middle class Canadians don’t qualify for legal aid, but the cost of lawyer is prohibitive for most, leaving many to self-represent. But even with the growing availability of good public legal education information along with the new justice access centres, Muller says that without legal training, average people just aren’t properly equipped to handle their legal issues in court.
Bauman notes “We’ve got to figure out how to ease the access issue for people like Jennifer and the solid middle class in this country, where litigation is simply beyond the means of ordinary people. We’re always going to have self-represented litigants to some extent… but I think our efforts will be a failure if we give up on the idea that people will not have legal assistance in some fashion, in some form, limited or otherwise. That would be a failure.”
Bauman says it’s not just money that’s needed, but imaginative solutions such as:
- simplifying the court processes where necessary and possible
- building robust pro bono and legal aid systems
- allowing representation by paralegals and law students
- allowing for unbundled legal services
Family law has been designated as the first area to target. And the group is not looking for reports, they are looking for action. They have a triple aim: “We want to improve individual users’ experience with the system. We want to improve the experience of British Columbians generally, and importantly, we want to do it in a sustainable fashion.” (Read more about the framework for action here.)
Along with self-represented litigant Jennifer Muller and Chief Justice Bauman of the BC Court of Appeal, Access to Justice members include the Chief Justices of BC’s other courts; the heads of the province’s key legal organizations such as the Law Society of BC, Canadian Bar Association BC Branch, Access Pro Bono, and Mediate BC; representatives from community and business groups such as MOSAIC, the Disability Alliance of BC, and BC Chamber of Commerce; a municipal mayor, and many others.
Follow Access to Justice BC on Twitter: @A2JBC