Legal organizations in B.C. pledge to act on access to justice

  • June 20, 2019

By Ian Burns for The Lawyer's Daily

Over 50 justice sector organizations in B.C. have pledged to work toward improving access to justice in the civil justice and family law field, and the group spearheading the move says the plan is not about prescribing solutions but ensuring collaboration among different players in the system.

The organizations have signed on to Access to Justice B.C.’s triple aim, which commits them to a common goal to improve access to family and civil justice. The triple aim has one goal but three inter-related elements: improving access to justice at the population (or sub-population) level; improving the experience of users who need access to justice; and improving costs. Implicit in the concept of the triple aim is the importance of measuring all three elements to understand whether and how the goal of access to justice is achieved.

Attorney General David Eby, who joined the other organizations in signing the triple aim June 12, said improving access to justice for all British Columbians is something that has been a “priority for our government since day one.”

“We are excited to be a part of this joint commitment across the justice sector,” he said. “I’m proud that so many stakeholders have come together to focus on improving the experience of those who turn to the justice system, ensuring that services work for the people who need them.”

British Columbia Chief Justice Robert Bauman, who also serves as the chair of Access to Justice B.C., said the triple aim “tells us to innovate, to focus on the experience of people using the system, to pursue cost-effectiveness and to measure impact and progress.”

“I believe the access to justice triple aim will help all of us who work in the justice system to focus our innovation and reform efforts on the British Columbians we serve,” he said.

Access to Justice B.C. strategic co-ordinator Jane Morley said the three elements of the triple aim “turn this aspirational goal of access to justice into something that can be measured.” The triple aim borrows from the Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI)’s own triple aim initiative, which Access to Justice B.C. says has been successfully used to promote innovation in the health sector.

“We don’t just go out and say act, we say act in a way that is going to improve access to justice for the population and do something about the cost,” she said. “[The IHI initiative] seemed like a really good fit for us because the health care system is not dissimilar to the justice system, in the sense there is no one organization with enough control over the resources to make decisions on its own. So, you need to have collaborative action and diverse organizations working together to really make a change.”

The triple aim does not offer specific solutions, however. Access to Justice B.C. has developed an access measurement framework which it is encouraging the organizations to use, but Morley said it is not making use of the framework part of the pledge.

“I’ve been around in the field of justice reform for many years and I’ve never read a report that didn’t say we need more collaboration. But that doesn’t happen as much as it should and I think it’s because different organizations have different mandates,” she said. “So [the triple aim] is really not about prescribing. People like to know what the plan is, but that can get bogged down into disagreements about what’s the best way, and really we’re saying there’s many good ways.”

Morley said Access to Justice B.C. is “encouraging shifts in the culture in the way the way the justice system acts.”

“And one of those things is we tend to be siloed, so we want to encourage collaboration,” she said. “If you’re going to collaborate you do need to have a common goal — so we’ve stated the common goal, but we’re not going to tell you how to do it.”

Other signatories to the triple aim include both the University of British Columbia and University of Victoria faculties of law, the Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC) and the Canadian Bar Association, B.C. Branch (CBABC). CBABC president Margaret Mereigh said “access to justice is about more than meeting with a lawyer or appearing in court.”

“It’s the whole picture of helping people move through the prevention, management and resolution of their legal problems,” she said. “We are looking at how people in their everyday lives can gain the knowledge necessary to manage their legal needs, or how they can take action to resolve their problems within the justice system. We want to provide services from the perspectives of those people.”

Morley said there is a “real feeling among the group that we have to do something” about access to justice issues.

“I think there will be a whole lot of things that will be next steps when it comes to the triple aim. I’m going be working with some of the administrative tribunals who signed on to look at how to implement it,” she said. “So, what I see is different organizations dealing with the issue [of access to justice] in ways that work for them.”