We’ve found social media to be a great way to communicate and connect with others in the legal, legal tech, public legal education and access to justice communities. Hashtags are primarily associated with social media platforms Twitter and Instagram, but in recent years, other platforms like Facebook have also joined in.
Access to Justice BC is British Columbia’s response to a national call for action to make family and civil justice more accessible. It is a forum to facilitate open communication and collaborative working relationships among justice system stakeholders.
Welcome to the Access to Justice BC website. It is my sincere pleasure to launch what I anticipate will become a series of updates communicating the activities and progress of Access to Justice BC. I look forward to reaching people across our province who are interested in and concerned about the extent to which the civil justice system is accessible in BC. I want to provide information about what Access to Justice BC is doing about the problem, and to invite you to tell us how well we are doing.
In this posting, I will describe a bit about Access to Justice BC and explain what encouraged me get involved with the initiative.
Access to Justice BC started when a few of the province’s justice leaders and thinkers took to heart the recommendation of the National Action Committee to create a provincial forum dedicated to improving access to justice. The small group of people grew larger and came to involve the major legal institutions in the province, and eventually representatives from organizations outside of the justice system as well. The rationale for this broad membership is to foster an innovative, multi-disciplinary approach to the issue, hopefully leading to better ideas and a greater willingness to experiment (and to take risks).
Access to Justice BC got off the ground in 2015 with a handful of meetings addressing the processes that the group will follow and deciding on a first target for action within the civil justice system: family law. Running parallel to the full Access to Justice BC meetings have been a multitude of smaller sub-committee meetings, working on strategy, communications and planning issues.
The most recent full meeting of Access to Justice BC, which I will describe in more detail in a separate posting, took place in February of this year and put to the test the creative thinking and commitment of the group. A number of concrete initiatives were identified for exploration, and I will be reporting on these initiatives as they progress.
What drew me to join Access to Justice BC? Like many people involved in the civil justice system, I am sorely aware of its shortcomings. Don’t get me wrong; I’m also proudly aware of its strengths and successes. But when I see litigants struggling to navigate complex court processes on their own, or when I consider the unknown number of people in BC who, thwarted by the potential cost, don’t pursue their legal rights, I have to ask myself: is the justice system there for everyone who needs it? If not, what are we doing wrong? Are there minor fixes to address some problems, or is a complex overhaul required? Conversely, what aspects of the system (or of another system for that matter) are working well? Is there a way to transpose those successes to certain areas of civil justice or to scale them upwards?
Access to Justice BC does not pretend to have the answers to these questions. The access problem isn’t something that can be solved by a group of people thinking hard in a room. It is a complex problem that may require multiple innovative solutions and, in order to reach those solutions, some degree of trial and error. It will also take hard work and, yes, in some cases resources.
I hope that you will visit our website and follow our progress over the next year.
Everyone was invited to participate by tweeting questions to the Provincial Court’s Chief Judge Crabtree using the hashtag #AskChiefJudge or by sending an email prior to the event. The Chief Judge tweeted 100 direct replies in response between 1-3pm on April 14th, BC Law Day.
As the Provincial Court eNews notes, the event was promoted by “[t]he communications team of the Canadian Bar Association BC Branch…as part of BC Law Week. They, and the BC Law Society, Trial Lawyers Association, Courthouse Libraries BC, Clicklaw, Justice Education Society, Legal Services Society, Mediate BC, Access Pro Bono, Access to Justice BC, and Nidus joined the conversation, adding helpful information.” Thank you as well to all Clicklaw contributor organizations and Clicklaw visitors and users for participating!
April 17, Colin Lachance made a Netlytic visualization of the Twitter Town Hall which according to Colin “has all details associated with 694 uses of [the #AskChiefJudge] hashtag beween [April] 8th and 17th, about half of which came during the 2 hour town hall, each line is a tweet linking 2 people through metions, RTs, likes to show influence.”
The Chief Judge cannot comment on individual cases, and may not be able to answer all questions during the Town Hall, but efforts will be made to answer outstanding questions on the Court’s website after the event.
Read the Legal Services Society (LSS) resource, “All about court orders” for more information about what kinds of court orders you can get, as well as options to pursue before the court makes a final order, to try and resolve as much of your case as possible without a formal court hearing.
Can I get a court order without a lawyer?
If you and the other party agree about what you want the court to order, you can apply for what’s called a “consent order” and may be able to get it without attending court.
If you have a lawyer, your lawyer will have the order typed and submit it to the Court. If you don’t have a lawyer, the other party’s lawyer will do this, but you should see a lawyer yourself to review the proposed order before you sign a document showing you consent to the order.
Click here to see where to find free or low cost legal advice on family law matters.
If you don’t have a lawyer, another direct way to get a consent order is to meet with a Family Justice Counsellor (FJC) who can help you obtain or change an order in Family Court. FJCs work at Family Justice Centres located across BC; they provide free services for people of modest means. FJCs are specially trained to support families to reach agreement on issues of guardianship, parenting arrangements (including parental responsibilities and parenting time), contact and support. They can help you obtain or change an order in Family Court; including preparing the consent order and submitting it to the Court for you. They can also provide information and referrals, short-term counselling, mediation, help with various court forms, and more. In some communities, couples who separate must meet with a FJC before they are given a date to appear in court.
“How to get a final family order in Provincial Court” explains what to do once you draft a consent order. If a judge approves your order, you won’t have to appear in a court room. However, if there are problems in the wording you choose or the information you provide, you may have to attend court to give the judge more information. This is why it’s so helpful to have a FJC or lawyer prepare and submit a consent order for you.
If, however, you and the other party ultimately don’t agree, you’ll go to court and the judge will make an order:
If both parties agree by the time you get to court you can ask the judge to make a consent order on the day of your first court appearance.
When you go to court, you can ask for a case conference where you and the other party will meet with a judge to discuss the issues. If you agree during the case conference, the judge can make a consent order there.
This does not mean that the judge types up the order that is filed at the registry. The Rules require the successful party’s lawyer to do that.
However, if you are successful and do not have a lawyer, the court clerk (registry staff) prepares the order unless the judge orders otherwise. For example, if the unsuccessful party has a lawyer, the judge may ask that lawyer to draft the order.
If the other party’s lawyer will be preparing an order, ask the judge to permit you to approve its wording before the lawyer sends it to the Court.
Whether an order is submitted by a lawyer or prepared by the court registry, it will be checked by court staff and/or the judge to ensure it reflects what the judge said in court.
How should the court order be drafted, and why?
The order should clearly and precisely reflect the court’s decision. It should state who does what, to whom, when, and in some cases where or for how long.
It should be understandable even by someone who is unfamiliar with the case. This is because the court’s orders may need to be enforced by people who were not involved in the case.
Poor Example of a term in an order:
John Smith will pay child support of $800 a month.
There would be problems enforcing this order if John did not pay. It doesn’t say who he must pay or when, among other details missing.
Better Example of a term in an order:
John Smith will pay to Jane Smith the sum of $800 per month for the support of the children, May Smith born June 1, 2011 and Lee Smith born July 3, 2012, commencing on October 1st 2015 and continuing on the first day of each and every month thereafter, for as long as the children are eligible for support under the Family Law Act or until further Court order.
This wording from the “Picklist” on the Provincial Court website makes it clear who does what to whom, when, when the obligation starts, and when it ends. Use the standard wording of Family Law Act terms provided in the BC Provincial Court Picklists whenever possible; this also helps with faster processing at the Registry: Click here for the Picklist Word Doc.
If a lawyer is involved, they will use their notes of what the judge said to draft the order. If the judge gives written reasons for judgment after trial, the order will be prepared based on these written reasons – you can also order clerk’s notes or a transcript of the proceeding, although this can take some time and is expensive.
Update: Extension of deadline to October 1, 2015. In light of the interest shown in the issues raised by the Consultation Memo, the Chief Judge has extended the time for members of the public to make written submissions. Comments are now sought on or before October 1, 2015.
The B.C. Provincial Court appears to be the only criminal trial court in Canada that provides remote online access to adult criminal court case information. You can access accused persons’ names, charges, bail orders and sentences through Court Services Online (CSO).
Online access like this raises unique tensions between fundamental principles of open courts, the presumption of innocence, and the extent to which personal information should be widely circulated when the outcome of a criminal charge is something other than conviction. The Court’s current policy is not to display case information on CSO after a case has ended if the case has resulted in a stay, withdrawal of charges, or an acquittal or dismissal. The Chief Judge is also considering whether to adopt a policy not to display information about cases that have resulted in “peace bonds” under section 810 of the Criminal Code.
Because there has not been a broad public discussion about what the limits on online publication of criminal case information should be, the Chief Judge invites members of the public, including the media, to comment on these aspects of judicial policy. A Consultation Memorandum has been posted to the Provincial Court website. It outlines the issues and asks for your views. Your comments and discussion will help the Chief Judge determine whether these policies need adjusting and whether they achieve an appropriate balance between openness and privacy considerations.
The Consultation Memorandum also deals with another issue. Members of the media have found that CSO blocks access to case information whenever a publication ban is made. The memorandum explains how publication bans work on CSO and why this blocking happens. The Chief Judge also invites comment on this policy and suggestions for reasonable alternatives.
information about the policies limiting access to case information when a stay, withdrawal, acquittal or dismissal has been entered;
reasons for considering a change to include peace bonds, options for change; and
information about the effect of publication bans on the information available on CSO.
Then please send your comments by September 18, 2015 to:
email@example.com Re: CSO Policy Consultation OR
CSO Policy Consultation
Attention: Mr. Gene Jamieson, Q.C., Senior Legal Officer
Office of the Chief Judge, Provincial Court of British Columbia
337 – 800 Hornby Street, Vancouver, B.C.