Court Services of the Future: Online Mediation

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In British Columbia, the Legal Services Society has launched a free, online service called “The Family Resolution Centre”. It is part of My Law BC(delivered by legal aid provider Legal Services Society).

The Family Resolution Centre program of My Law BC helps separated couples create parenting plans online. The parenting plans deal with parenting time, vacations, and other childcare needs. Alternatively, couples can request up to five hours of free assistance from a mediator. It is the first service of its kind in Canada. It can be accessed from mylawbc.com under “Mediation Tool”.

Tools like the Family Resolution Centre are a great way to help address the issue of access to justice. Many problems we typically think of as legal problems are really social problems. In the article titled “Access to What?”, Rebecca Sandefur points out that when solving the access to justice problem we need to redefine “access to justice”. Access to justice does not mean unmet legal needs. “Judges and lawyers work at the top of an enormous iceberg of civil justice activity… the access to justice crisis is a crisis of exclusion and inequality, for which legal services will sometimes provide a solution.” Rather addressing access to justice requires us to think of problems more broadly. For instance, thinking of them as issues in relationships, work, or neighbours.

I hope that similar jurisdictions can implement a similar program to the Family Resolution Centre. The program seems to helps people solve their problems simply and in a manner that the public respects.

(Views are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization. This article was originally posted on slaw.ca)

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Solving the Issue of Access to Justice by Redefining “Access to Justice”

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“Justice is open to all; like the Ritz Hotel.”

In the article “Clients Need Legal Services But Not Necessarily Lawyers“, Mark Cohen writes about the issue of access to justice. He points out that improving access to justice does not always mean improving access to lawyers. He refers to new products that provide legal services. These products include a chatbot that helps fight parking tickets, LegalZoom, Hello Divorce, and alternative legal service providers (like in house departments) that are not built on the profit per partner model.

Cohen also refers to the scholarship by Rebecca Sandefur in explaining why improving access to justice does not necessarily mean improving access to lawyers. Improving access to justice starts by redefining what “access to justice means.”

In the article titled “Access to What?”, Sandefur redefines the meaning of “access to justice”. Sandefur points out that solving the problem of access to justice requires a new conceptualization of the problem. “The definition of the crisis as one of unmet legal need comes from the bar.” The idea that it is an unmet legal need comes from the fact that judges and lawyers are defining the problem. “Judges and lawyers work at the top of an enormous iceberg of civil justice activity.”

Most of the justice issues are invisible and handled without the help of judges or lawyers. Declaring the problem as a problem of legal services gives lawyers a starring role and makes for a tidy, but inaccurate narrative.

Sandefur writes that the “access to justice crisis is a crisis of exclusion and inequality, for which legal services will sometimes provide a solution.” Most civil justice problems are handled by people on their own primarily because “people do not consider law as a solution for their justice problems.” Rather, people think of their problems as issues in relationships, work, or neighbours.

Sandefur recommends that research be done to better understand when access to justice can be achieved by using the courts, legal services, or by another actor. Many problems adding to the access to justice crisis are part of larger systemic problems.

(This article was originally posted on slaw.ca Views are my own and do not represent the views of any organization.)