Transforming Justice

Ask, advise, align, act, but above all, allocate the money

Transforming Justice

This is it. The opportunity we have been waiting for, the time when intense need in our justice system might be met by provincial government funding. Can you feel the momentum, the excitement, the possibility? You would be forgiven if you answered, “maybe?”

At this time when the big, bright spotlight on our justice system (within and out of courts) may have caught the eye of our politicians, let’s be clear about what has already happened and what must happen next.

We have asked many questions about what to do about our justice system. Think of all the consultations initiated by government, including green papers or through external reviews. Name the topic, there has been a consultation. For years.

Useful consultations result in advice. CBA has offered advice, as have the participants at every Justice Summit, Cowper, Maclaren, the Justice Review Task Force in any decade, the Provincial Court, the Supreme Court, and the list goes on. All of this is documented in reports. So many reports! What could be done to improve the experience of litigants, be more effective, use various technologies and streamlined process, and reduce costs has been stated clearly and repeatedly.

And much more often than we acknowledge or are even aware, the views of the key stakeholders in the justice system align. Despite some efforts to suggest otherwise, they do. We see this in the Justice and Public Safety Plan, and the First Nations Justice Strategy, and the Triple Aim Approach, the Digital Transformation Strategy, to name just a few. The summits, task forces, and networks bring together judges, lawyers, the government’s public servants, and more recently, the litigants. The recommendations often reflect an informed and aligned view from people who know what reforms are needed, and are ready to act.

These actions often begin as a pilot project. They may be small, perhaps confined to a few registries. A current example is the Family Justice Early Resolution and Case Management Project in Victoria. That project demonstrates a willingness to change, a culture of experimentation, and an understanding that legal issues that involve children must be resolved quickly. Current initiatives reflect the values of a collaborative (multi-disciplinary), user-centered, experimental, and evidence-informed approach to transforming our justice system.

Where we haven’t seen much movement is in the allocation of funding to support British Columbia’s justice system. Every year the province’s Standing Committee on Finance engages CBABC and others to learn what needs to be done. Every year CBABC asks for increased funding to our courts’ basic infrastructure of people, technology, and the capacity to innovate more. Every year we are disappointed. How can it be that the core of our justice system is starved of the necessary funding to meet the demands of its users in the 21st century?

We are about to enter a new round of budget consultations and submissions to government. The challenge for our politicians and their advisors is considerable what with the additional pressures brought about by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The approach and priorities of the past must, out of necessity, be set aside. That includes the past approach to the funding of our justice system.

So we come back to the opportunity. Legal system stakeholders have had the task forces, action committees and reports. We don’t need to seek new ideas. We know what needs to be done, what needs to change and have demonstrated we are ready to do it. To see an evolution in the courts themselves to include more remote technology, more paths in and out of the judge’s courtroom, and timely justice, government must allocate funding through the Ministry of Attorney General to courts and other key parts of the overall justice system. CBABC will continue to make this point.