A pathway forward for British Columbia
Some time ago, Charles Dickens warned us that without speedier access to justice, there will be no access to justice:
Keep out of Chancery. It’s being ground to bits in a slow mill; it’s being roasted at a slow fire; it’s being stung to death by single bees; it’s being drowned by drops; it’s going mad by grains.
The Court Services Committee asked their members whether they were prepared to heed this call by supporting some form of electronic civil litigation for BC. The survey went out in 2015 and received a high participation rate. The membership overwhelmingly approved of pursuing this initiative subject to the key requirement that any electronic platform or system must ensure judicial independence and accommodate BC residents who do not have the means to access the required technology to participate. In 2016, the survey data was analyzed and a report submitted to Provincial Council containing the following recommendations:
- Only parties of record and their counsel/staff are permitted to file in a particular proceeding, but that the system remains open to the public – similar to Court Services Online.
- A user (lawyer or party) must complete an identification verification process (requiring at least two pieces of identification) before
access to the electronic platform is granted. Once the user completes the verification process they can register for an account to access the electronic litigation platform. Once registered, the user should supply a log-in ID and password to access the electronic platform. Parties that lack identification required by the system could appear at the registry for registration purposes.
- The roll-out of any pilot project involving electronic civil litigation should initially involve the simplest types of applications made by consent or seeking substitutional service followed by more complex but still fairly routine applications e.g. additional time for discovery or trial, adjournment applications, costs assessments before the Registrar or settling the form of an order.
- The parties must not be allowed to abuse the system by filing serial submissions to unnecessarily prolong the process and such abuses may be met with an award of costs. However, access should not be limited to a specific number of submissions.
- Any applicable deadlines set out in the Court’s Rules of Procedure should apply to the electronic litigation model. However, the system should be more accessible in accepting submissions during non-business hours. The system should also have the flexibility to allow parties to agree to alter deadlines and any such agreement should be registerable on the system.
- To assist and support self-represented litigants, legal stakeholders should allocate resources to offer in-person training on the use of the electronic system at the law libraries across the province, in addition to prerecorded training webinars available online.
Further details of the report can be found here.
This past December, the Provincial Council adopted the report as a Branch submission. Mindful that any reform to the current civil justice model requires the participation and approval of key justice stakeholders, the report was forwarded to the Attorney General of BC and the Chiefs of our Superior and Provincial Courts for their consideration and feedback.
Lawyers are often accused of seeking to maintain the status quo and stymie innovation and progress in the justice system. We trust the feedback from the members demonstrating their openness to examine ways to improve speedier access to justice helps to allay some of those concerns.
Neil Hain served as the Project Leader for this initiative. He is a current member of the Court Services and Equality and Diversity Committees and past Member of the Business of Law Committee and past Chair of the ADR – Vancouver Section.