On my commute yesterday morning, i caught the tail end of The Early Edition on CBC discussing the new Access to Justice BC program. Once I arrived at work I eagerly googled to learn more about the program.
The group involves ordinary citizens as well as members of the justice system who plan to work together to look at issues related to access to justice. Throughout my years working in at the Legal Services Society, as well as my undergraduate education at Simon Fraser University, I became very interested and passionate about issues relating to access to justice. I'm very interested to see where this program goes, particularly the CBC article indicated that reforms could include changes such as "allowing paralegals and law students to represent clients in court."
Another optimistic aspect of this program is that Robert Bauman, the Chief Justice of BC has been quoted saying that "[w]e're looking for action, we're not looking for reports" so hopefully we will see actual change stemming out of this partnership.
Stay tuned for more updates on this project!
BC Moves to an Online Forum to Deal with Small Claims Matters and Strata Disputes: Will this Mean Changes to the Role of Paralegals?
Starting later this year, BC will move small claims matters worth under $10,000 and strata disputes online. It won’t be mandatory from the outset, although Victoria has indicated that it soon will be.
The program will include three phases: party to party negotiations, a facilitation phase (similar to mediation) and adjudication. The judgements will have the same force as a court ruling. The program will have staff who will monitor parties’ progress.
The hope is that this program will be faster and less expensive. The plan is that the process will take no more than 60 days and won’t cost more than the filing fees. Litigants don’t need to appear online – everything takes place online.
Decisions in the Civil Resolution Tribunal will hold the same force as a court ruling. Decisions can also be appealed – albeit in limited situations. Strata appeals can be heard in the BC Supreme Court and the Provincial Court will hear small claims appeals.
While BC isn’t the first place to implement a program such as this (some European countries are well ahead of us), it is the first province in Canada to implement such a program.
This move represents a decrease of reliance on lawyers, as the program is intended to simplify the process and increase access to justice. As such, it seems an excellent place to expand the duties and responsibilities of paralegals in BC. If the role of paralegals was expanded, we could step in to provide a lower cost option for people who aren’t comfortable going through the process on their own.