An update from the Attorney General.
By The Honourable Michael de Jong, QC
The Canadian justice system is widely regarded as one of the best in the world. It is globally lauded as open and fair. We have an effective and responsive justice system because we adapt to changing needs and remain relevant to the people who use the system.
We know what happens when people become indifferent to our institutions. They stop participating and eventually begin to question the authority of the institution itself. Which is why, for change to be successful, an institution’s users must feel the change responds to their needs and interests.
To make B.C.’s justice system more accessible and accountable, the province is contemplating how we can open up the courts to more public participation. In this spirit, and for the very first time, we recently involved the public in the appointment of B.C.’s new Provincial Court chief judge. We intend to make publicly accessible court records more available through registries and the Internet (Court Services Online is at: https://eservice.ag.gov.bc.ca). Moreover, as media are a vital conduit to the public, it is important to ensure appropriate court case information is readily accessible, which is why I recently eliminated a $6 fee for access to online criminal and traffic court records. Additionally, and of special note, we are having discussions with the judiciary regarding the piloting of cameras in courts.
When we talk about access to justice, the way we do business has to keep pace with information technology, the needs of the current generation of court users and modern-day demands on people’s time and resources. The Hon. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin has made the point that the public is increasingly electing not to go to court. People are making other choices and some are opting out altogether.
B.C. is addressing this by promoting less adversarial options for resolving civil and family law disputes. Simplified, cost-effective court procedures in the new Supreme Court civil and family rules took effect July 1. And, Justice Access Centres in Nanaimo and Vancouver are improving the public’s access to justice services. We are also looking at maximizing finite court resources through better management and collaboration, as well as finding ways to reduce purely administrative appearances in the criminal justice system, so court and judicial resources can be focused where they are most needed.
On the legislative side, the Family Relations Act review has far-reaching policy implications that will impact many B.C. families. Reforms will support families in achieving resolutions in a far less adversarial way (should they choose to do so), as well as make the law more understandable and more relevant to modern families. The Limitation Act has not undergone a comprehensive review since its inception in 1975 and is another area we are examining because it is time to bring B.C. closer in line with other Canadian jurisdictions. These are some of the ways in which we are seeking to improve our excellent justice system: a system willing to embrace new, creative ideas to better serve the public good.
The Honourable Michael de Jong, QC, Attorney General.
This article was published in the August 2010 issue of BarTalk. © 2010 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.