BC to Hold its First Access to Justice Week

British Columbia will be holding its inaugural Access to Justice Week from September 29 to October 5, 2018. The week’s events have been organized and are being led by the province’s three law schools – Allard Law School at the University of British Columbia, Thompson Rivers University Faculty of Law, and the University of Victoria Faculty of Law.  BC’s A2J Week will include:

  • Tech events
    This will include a weekend hackathon, as well as a panel on artificial initelligence (AI) innovation and the justice sector.
  • Law school events
    Events to be held at BC’s three law schools include a presentation on “What would A2J look like for victims of sexual violence?” and a panel on “Lawyering with Heart: Violence informed and solution-focused lawyering for Indigenous youth and families”. The 7th Annual National Pro Bono Conference in Vancouver on October 4 – 5, which will coincide with BC’s A2J Week, will bring together lawyers, paralegals, law students, judges and other stakeholders to discuss ideas and best practices for increasing access to justice.
  • Victoria events
    Students at the University of Victoria Faculty of Law will be holding an Access to Justice Fair to share information on opportunities to increase A2J. Later in the week, there will also be a presentation by Dr. Julie Macfarlane on the challenges that self-represented litigants face.
  • Kamloops events
    Thompson Rivers University (TRU) law school students and staff from the TRU Community Legal Clinic will be offering information and intake referrals at the Farmers’ Market on September 29. The Community Legal Clinic will also be offering information (and free coffee)  later in the week and Dr. Macfarlane will speak to law students and to members of the legal community on October 3. There will also be a talk on legal tech and access to justice as well as activities to teach attendees about the challenges of self-representation.

For more information on BC’s inaugural Access to Justice Week, visit: www.provincialcourt.bc.ca/enews/enews-18-09-2018.

New Report Examines Alberta’s Mandatory Early Intervention Case Conferencing Pilot Project

The early intervention case conferences (EICCs) is a pilot project that was implemented by Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench in September, 2017 in an effort to address the increasing delays until family law cases can be tried, increasing numbers of litigants without counsel, and the short complement of the bench relative to the province’s population.

The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF) recently conducted an evaluation of the EICC in order to determine if the Early Intervention Case Conference project is meeting its stated goals. The evaluation provides insights into what is working and what could be improved in the pilot project, and explores whether the project should be implemented as a permanent part of the family law litigation process in the Court of Queen’s Bench.

An Evaluation of Alberta’s Mandatary Early Intervention Case Conference Pilot Project final report is available online here: http://www.crilf.ca/Documents/EICC_Evaluation_-_August_2018.pdf.

Access to Justice: Diana Lowe on support for families as they restructure

by Thomas Cromwell

Alberta has been engaged for several years in an ambitious family law reform effort. I spoke to Diana Lowe, co-lead of the Reforming the Family Justice System (RFJS) initiative, about what they have been doing and what’s ahead. Here is the second part of my interview with her.

TC: What main innovations have been introduced and how are they working?

DL: The most significant change that has taken place, is a shift in the mental model or culture in the family justice system, away from improving access to lawyers, law and adversarial processes, and instead to a focus on family well-being through services that support families as they experience the pressures of restructuring. We are encouraging awareness of this shift by all participants in the family justice system, including families, and encouraging alignment with the Theory of Change in policy and programs.

We are beginning to see shifts in systems, policy and practices including the Court of Queen’s Bench that has adopted the Theory of Change in its Strategic Plan and is beginning to take action to put this into effect. Resolution Services in the Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General is developing a pilot to refocus the work of frontline staff as “justice system navigators.” These staff will be trained in brain science, and will develop maps of community services so they can assist families to obtain the supports they need for their social, relationship, parenting and financial needs.

This pilot is a collaboration with the County of Strathcona Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) and if successful, will be expanded to include FCSS organizations throughout the province.

Alberta has submitted a joint proposal (by the Alberta Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General, the Court of Queen’s Bench and the provincial court) to the federal minister of Justice, for the creation of an Alberta Unified Family Court. The proposal embedded the RFJS Theory of Change, supporting the use of services to assist Alberta families to access supports they need to help develop resilience, and to resolve disputes away from the adversarial processes of courts as much as possible.

TC: How is the experience of a family going through separation and divorce different from what it might have been five years ago?

DL: While the RFJS is still underway, there are many things that parents can do already to help them and their children thrive as they restructure. As co-convenor Justice Andrea Moen noted at our recent Collaborator Workshop, collaborative family professionals were out front in understanding that co-operation and collaboration between parents is essential for the health of the family and of the children. They led the way by creating teams of professionals to assist families.

The RFJS is aligned with the collaborative approach both to help families avoid adversarial court processes and to work out the restructuring of their family. Their approach is a model which ensures that families receive the kinds of relationship, parenting and financial supports that they need, and families can be guided by the model that collaborative professionals have created for supporting healthy families.

There are many different supports that are available to assist families, including collaborative family practitioners, co-parenting experts, wellness coaches, grief counsellors, financial advisers, step-parent supports, and of course mediators and lawyers. Examples of these supports are published regularly in Divorce Magazine. Families can use technology tools that encourage parents to work together to achieve better outcomes, including coParenter and Undo.

Supports for families are also available in most communities in the province through Family and Community Support Services partnerships between the provincial government and municipal governments; at Parent Link Centres; and through Triple-P Parenting Resources.

The RFJS is supporting the Ministry pilot in the County of Strathcona that will see families seek these supports, as part of our goal for better outcomes. As families are encouraged to seek out these supports early on in their decision to restructure, they are better able to deal with the emotional, parenting, relationship and financial challenges that commonly occur upon separation and divorce, and to avoid tangling these issues into legal processes.

TC: What’s next?

DL: Our Outcomes Framework identifies our key priorities for the coming year as:

  • Working with the legal profession to encourage brain science education by family lawyers, and identifying implications for shifts in ethical responsibilities and practices of family lawyers.
  • Working with the courts to ensure they are familiar with the Theory of Change, and are encouraged to align court processes with it.
  • Continued work with the Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General on the pilot with FCSS, and other family justice initiatives.
  • Helping to enhance the public understanding that “parents fighting about their children causes harm,” and to provide information about supports to improve resilience and well-being of family members.
  • Working with frontline service providers and supports for families, to empower them to provide the social, relationship, parenting and financial supports that families need when they’re restructuring.
  • Working with other ministries (Health, Education, Community and Social Services, Children’s Services) to share the Theory of Change and seek alignment with it, and the integration of services for families, in order to help families thrive.

This is the second of a two-part series. Read part one here.

This article originally appeared on The Lawyer’s Daily on July 30, 2018. It is the tenth article in The Honourable Thomas Cromwell’s exclusive Lawyer’s Daily column dedicated to access to civil and family justice.

The Honourable Thomas Cromwell served 19 years as an appellate judge and chairs the Chief Justice’s Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. He retired from the Supreme Court of Canada in September of 2016 and is now senior counsel to the national litigation practice at Borden Ladner Gervais.

Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family Publishes Report on Canadian Legal Incubator Initiative

A recently published report by the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF) examines the Aspire Legal Access Initiative (ALAI), a program based in Alberta that provides law school graduates with articles in family law and improves access to family law services for Calgarians. ALAI is modelled on legal incubator programs that have increased in popularity in the United States as a means to offer legal services to people who would not otherwise be able to access help. Similarly, through the ALAI program, Calgarians who earn too much to be eligible for legal aid but too little to afford private counsel receive legal assistance from law students and a senior lawyer. ALAI is the first legal incubator project in Canada and has been adapted to meet Canada’s article requirements.

The Evaluation of the Aspire Legal Access Initiative report outlines the satisfaction and opinions of clients, articled students and stakeholders from the legal community who accessed the program and also offers recommendations aimed at ensuring the program continues to operate as intended. An Evaluation of the Aspire Legal Access Initiative is available online here: http://www.crilf.ca/Documents/Aspire_Evaluation_-_July_2018.pdf.

Access to Justice: Diana Lowe on the theory of change

by Thomas Cromwell

Alberta has been engaged for several years in an ambitious family law reform effort. I spoke to Diana Lowe, co-lead of the Reforming the Family Justice System initiative, about what they have been doing and what’s ahead. Here is what she told me.

TC: What was the impetus for Alberta’s family law project and what are its objectives?

DL: The Reforming the Family Justice System (RFJS) initiative was inspired by two very different but important pieces of work. The first is new scientific knowledge about brain science and brain development, which includes understanding the impact of toxic stress and how it is harmful to children’s brains. This is the kind of stress that occurs when families have unresolved disputes and children are exposed to fighting between parents. Brain science tells us that fighting between parents actually harms the development of children’s brains. The effects are physical as well as mental, impact the child throughout their life, and in fact can be intergenerational.

The second is the recommendations in the reports of the national Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters (Action Committee). The Action Committee is made up of leaders from across Canada, and published five reports in 2013, which are available online here.

The name we gave to this initiative is “Reforming the Family Justice System,” but we increasingly refer to it as “reimagining” the family justice system. In short, the RFJS is aimed at wholesale systems change. The change we’re seeking in the RFJS is not the traditional focus of access to justice initiatives, which aim to improve and increase access to legal processes and services. Rather, we seek well-rounded solutions that support families as they restructure, and most importantly, ensuring that children are safe and able to thrive even as their families are changing.

TC: Has the initiative identified the main problems that need to be solved?

DL: We’ve developed a Theory of Change that guides us in our work. It recognizes that “family justice issues are primarily social, relationship and financial, that contain a legal element.” By this, we understand that we need to untangle social, relationship and financial issues from legal issues, and create paths to empower families to obtain the social, relationship and financial supports that they need to address these problems, outside of adversarial legal processes and away from the courts. We are recognizing that legal — adversarial — responses to what are primarily social, relationship and financial problems, cause harm to families.

TC: Can you explain what you mean by “Theory of Change”?

DL: The concept of a Theory of Change is commonly used in systems change processes (it is described in detail here). Our work on the RFJS Theory of Change began in December 2014, and was based on the recognition that “… relationship breakdown is not a legal event that has some potential social consequences; it is a social phenomenon that has some legal consequences.” (Action Committee, Family Justice Working Group Report, Beyond Wise Words at p.14).

Facilitators led a number of different groups of Convenors and Collaborators through discussions which encouraged the group to really drill down to the systemic causes for the problems in the family justice system. Participants discussed why these causes exist, including what the worldview is that creates and fosters them, and what society’s basic myths and metaphors are about family justice, as these are part of our current mental model, or culture, which is a barrier to change. The group then focused on the new mental model that we want to create, and on high-level strategies to move forward. What made sense to the group was that our Theory of Change would follow a progression from problems, through strategies to outcomes, filtered through the lens that recognizes “Family justice issues are primarily social, relationship and financial, that contain a legal element.”

The Theory of Change for the RFJS is a living document that helps us maintain our focus on the “big picture” and on what is required to support the changes we are seeking. It helps us to be more explicit about the change that underpins the RFJS, to see where our various initiatives and areas of work fit into this big picture, and where we can integrate and align efforts to achieve the desired impact. It also helps us identify indicators for evaluation.

This is the first of a two-part series.

 

This article originally appeared on The Lawyer’s Daily on July 23, 2018. It is the ninth article in The Honourable Thomas Cromwell’s exclusive Lawyer’s Daily column dedicated to access to civil and family justice.
The Honourable Thomas Cromwell served 19 years as an appellate judge and chairs the Chief Justice’s Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. He retired from the Supreme Court of Canada in September of 2016 and is now senior counsel to the national litigation practice at Borden Ladner Gervais.

Access to Justice: Action Committee Looks at Problems, Innovative Solutions / Accès à la justice : le Comité d’action aborde les problèmes à la recherche de solutions innovatrices

La version française suit.

Access to justice leaders from coast to coast to coast met for two and one-half days in Ottawa in April at the annual summit of the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. These people know better than most how big a challenge we face in improving access to justice. But that did not temper the enthusiasm for what has been accomplished or weaken the resolve to keep working for change.

Delegates representing the broad coalition that makes up the action committee — deputy ministers, the judiciary, provincial and territorial access to justice groups, legal aid plans, pro bono groups, public legal education providers, the bar, notaries, ADR professionals, administrative tribunals and the public — heard of the success of the action committee’s public engagement initiative and its innovation tool box project. Thousands of people engaged with the need for an effective civil and family justice system and people across Canada active in justice innovation developed communities of practice and other tools to help them with their important work. Sarah McCoubrey and Meredith Brown, access to justice strategists with Calibrate, designed and executed both projects, which were funded by the Law Foundation of Ontario.

The group also was given an update on progress on the action committee’s Justice Development Goals. Sixty-eight new initiatives to help people address everyday legal problems; 64 new initiatives designed to better meet legal needs, including eight new pro bono services; 50 projects aimed at improving family justice. And the list goes on.

One of the challenges facing reformers is the dearth of empirical evidence about how our civil and family justice system works and how to know if our reforms are having the intended effect. The improvement in justice metrics is a critical element of any long-term plan for systemic change. People at the summit learned of a project spearheaded by Jerry McHale which is bringing together a strong coalition to work on this topic. Bringing to together researchers at the faculties of law at the University of Victoria, University of Saskatchewan, York University and University of Montreal, the initiative’s goal is to develop priorities for justice system metrics and to build capacity for data gathering and analysis. And feeding into that effort was the work at the summit to begin to develop indicators; that is, things we can measure, in relation to each of the Justice Development Goals.

A full day of the summit was devoted to the issue of Indigenous child welfare. Organized by Scott Robertson of the Indigenous Bar Association and Mark Benton of the Legal Services Society of B.C., distinguished speakers from across Canada led us through an intense and impactful overview of the woeful state of services for Indigenous children and families in many parts of our country. While not usually discussed as an access to justice issue, the presentations at the summit showed that it certainly is. The child welfare system almost everywhere in Canada is not meeting the needs of children, families or communities. The speakers at the summit helped participants not only to better understand the problem, but also to hear about promising solutions. Better funding, more community leadership, more culturally appropriate options and a wider focus on the whole family were some of the aspects discussed.

To cap the summit, Beverley McLachlin, recently retired as chief justice of Canada, confirmed that she has agreed to assume the chair of the action committee this autumn. Her successor as chief justice, Richard Wagner, confirmed that he has accepted to take on the role of honourary chair of the action committee, following in his predecessor’s footsteps. Stay tuned!

All of us concerned about access to justice will not be satisfied until there is a great deal more improvement. But this gathering of leaders demonstrated that there is a growing commitment to make the necessary change and an impressive array of innovative projects showing that making that change is possible.
This article originally appeared on The Lawyer’s Daily on June 20, 2018. It is the eighth article in The Honourable Thomas Cromwell’s exclusive Lawyer’s Daily column dedicated to access to civil and family justice.

The Honourable Thomas Cromwell served 19 years as an appellate judge and chairs the Chief Justice’s Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. He retired from the Supreme Court of Canada in September of 2016 and is now senior counsel to the national litigation practice at Borden Ladner Gervais.


En avril, des chefs de file sur les questions d’accès à la justice, venus des quatre coins du pays, se sont réunis pendant deux jours et demi à Ottawa, pour participer au sommet annuel du Comité d’action sur l’accès à la justice en matière civile et familiale. Ce sont des gens particulièrement bien placés pour savoir à quel point il peut être difficile d’améliorer l’accès à la justice. Mais cela ne les a pas empêchés de se réjouir des progrès accomplis, et ils restent déterminés à amener de plus amples changements par leur travail assidu.

Les délégués représentant la vaste coalition des parties membres du Comité d’action – des sous-ministres, des juges, des représentants de groupes provinciaux et territoriaux d’accès à la justice, de régimes d’aide juridique, des professionnels qui offrent bénévolement des services juridiques, des fournisseurs de services d’éducation juridique du public, des avocats, des notaires, des professionnels du règlement extrajudiciaire des différends (RED), ainsi que des représentants de tribunaux administratifs et du grand public –, ont été informés du succès que le Comité d’action a obtenu avec son initiative de consultation publique et son projet de boîte à outils de l’innovation. Des milliers de personnes consultées ont confirmé la nécessité d’assurer un système efficace de justice civile et familiale, et des gens de tout le Canada agissant pour l’innovation en matière de justice ont quant à eux mis en place des communautés de pratique et d’autres outils pour faciliter leur important travail. Sarah McCoubrey et Meredith Brown, stratèges sur les questions d’accès à la justice au sein de l’organisation Calibrate, ont conçu et mis à exécution les deux projets, qui ont été financés par la Fondation du droit de l’Ontario.

Le groupe a aussi été mis au courant des progrès qu’a réalisés le Comité d’action par rapport à ses Objectifs de développement en matière de justice : 68 nouvelles initiatives pour aider les gens à résoudre des problèmes juridiques courants; 64 nouvelles initiatives conçues pour mieux répondre aux besoins juridiques, dont huit nouveaux services juridiques offerts bénévolement par des professionnels; 50 projets visant à améliorer le système de justice familiale; et la liste se poursuit.

Une des difficultés auxquelles les réformateurs doivent faire face tient à la pénurie de données empiriques sur la façon dont fonctionne notre système de justice civile et familiale, et sur ce que nous pouvons faire pour savoir si nos réformes donnent les effets escomptés. Tout plan pour la réalisation d’un changement systémique à long terme doit nécessairement passer par l’amélioration des paramètres de mesure de ces données. Les participants au sommet ont été informés d’un projet mené par Jerry McHale, qui rassemble une solide coalition œuvrant en ce sens, formée de chercheurs des facultés de droit de l’Université de Victoria, de l’Université de la Saskatchewan, de l’Université York et de l’Université de Montréal. L’objectif du projet consiste à déterminer les priorités de mesure pour les données relatives au système de justice, et de renforcer la capacité de collecte et d’analyse de ces données. Les participants au sommet y ont contribué en entamant l’élaboration d’indicateurs – c’est-à-dire des éléments que nous pouvons mesurer par rapport à chacun des Objectifs de développement en matière de justice.

Une journée entière du sommet a été consacrée à la question des services d’aide aux enfants autochtones. Cette journée était organisée par Scott Robertson de l’Association du Barreau autochtone et de Mark Benton de la Legal Services Society de Colombie-Britannique, et d’éminents conférenciers d’un peu partout au Canada nous y ont donné un aperçu criant et saisissant de l’état déplorable dans lequel se trouvent les services destinés aux enfants et familles autochtones, à de nombreux endroits au pays. Bien que ce ne soit habituellement pas traité comme un enjeu d’accès à la justice, les exposés entendus au sommet ont démontré que c’en était bel et bien un. Presque partout au Canada, le système de protection de l’enfance ne répond aux besoins ni des enfants, ni des familles, ni des collectivités concernées. Les conférenciers du sommet ont permis aux participants non seulement de mieux comprendre la problématique, mais aussi de prendre connaissance de solutions prometteuses. Parmi les aspects traités, il y avait notamment l’amélioration du financement, le renforcement du leadership communautaire, l’élaboration de possibilités mieux adaptées à la réalité culturelle, et l’élargissement du cadre d’intervention afin d’y inclure toute la famille.

Pour couronner le tout, Beverley McLachlin, récemment retraitée de ses fonctions de juge en chef du Canada, a confirmé qu’elle avait accepté d’assumer la présidence du Comité d’action à partir de cet automne. Son successeur à titre de juge en chef, Richard Wagner, a quant à lui confirmé qu’il suivrait ses traces en acceptant la présidence honoraire. Ce sera donc à suivre!

Nous tous, qui nous préoccupons d’accès à la justice, continuerons de veiller au grain tant et aussi longtemps que les choses ne se seront pas nettement améliorées. Entre-temps, cette rencontre de chefs de file en la matière a montré que de plus en plus de parties s’engagent à effectuer les changements nécessaires, et la gamme impressionnante de projets innovateurs qui y ont été présentés tend à démontrer que ces changements sont tout à fait possibles.

L’honorable Thomas Cromwell a été juge d’appel pendant 19 ans et siège au Comité d’action sur l’accès à la justice en matière civile et familiale établi à la demande de la juge en chef. Il a pris sa retraite de la Cour suprême du Canada en septembre 2016 et agit désormais comme avocat-conseil principal dans le domaine du contentieux à l’échelle nationale, au sein du cabinet Borden Ladner Gervais.

Designing Legal Expert Systems

The Honourable Thomas Cromwell’s The Lawyer’s Daily columns explore topical issues related to access to civil and family justice in Canada. His latest column features an interview with Professor Katie Sykes of Thompson Rivers University’s Faculty of Law about a course that Professor Sykes created and teaches on “Designing Legal Expert Systems”. This course, like several others being offered at law schools across Canada, are fostering innovation among law students and engaging them to identify creative solutions to justice system challenges. “Access to Justice: Katie Sykes on Designing Legal Expert Systems” is published on The Lawyer’s Daily website here and can also be accessed online here.

Special Issue of Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice Explores Innovation and Access to Justice in a Diverse Justice Landscape

The most recent volume of the Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice includes a collection of scholarly articles on the theme of: “Innovation and Access to Justice: Addressing the Challenge of a Diverse Justice Ecosystem”. This special issue was edited by the Winkler Institute for Dispute Resolution’s academic co-directors, Nicole Aylwin and Martha Simmons and is available for free online here: https://ojs.uwindsor.ca/ojs/leddy/index.php/WYAJ/index.

Selected Annotated Bibliography

As part of the Cost of Justice project, The Canadian Forum on Civil Justice recently published a Selected Annotated Bibliography of some of the major national and regional legal needs surveys from 1990 to present.

This bibliography is a great resource for anyone hoping to expand their understanding of legal needs and everyday justiciable problems. To view the Selected Annotated Bibliography, visit: http://bit.ly/CFCJ-CoJBibliography

Self-Rep Navigators

A Toronto-based lawyers group has launched the “Self-Rep Navigators” to direct legal services towards self-represented litigants. Described as “a hub for connecting self-represented litigants to supportive lawyers and high quality resources both online and offline”, Self-Rep Navigators have established a website at www.limitedscoperetainers.ca and list lawyers who will take clients on a limited scope retainer/ at fixed fees for civil and criminal matters, and those offering the same types of services to family clients.

Heather (hh@litigation-help.com) and Michael (mhassell@trialcounsel.ca) would like to hear from any other lawyers interested in being a part of this group.

You can find the full write up about Self-Rep Navigators here.