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From tools and tech to relationships and respect | Kurt Sandstrom

Tuesday, March 12, 2019 @ 8:17 AM | By Kurt Sandstrom

Kurt Sandstrom %>
Kurt Sandstrom
The justice sector has been the subject of intense scrutiny over recent years. This has both compelled and inspired us to seek new and innovative ways of ensuring access to justice for all British Columbians. We have pursued principled, achievable and meaningful initiatives that address both the relatively simple and the more complex issues facing the justice system.

Why innovate? There are many reasons:

  • Doing more of the same is neither financially sustainable nor will it meet the needs of modern justice system users.
  • Increasing number of unrepresented litigants tells us that gaps are growing.
  • Mobile devices mean opportunities for people to interact with institutions in different ways.

The proliferation of technology — as both a tool and a social underpinning — has been a key driver in some of our innovation efforts. For example, the first online tribunal in Canada, British Columbia’s Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT), is using technology to improve access to justice. The CRT’s platform is being applied to create online dispute resolution resources for other boards and tribunals in B.C., as well to vehicle-related minor injury claims.

Technological solutions need not be complex or require expensive infrastructure. Integrated telephone/computer technology is a simple and effective solution that allows us to expand family justice services and supports to more geographically remote parts of the province. Local office telephones are routed to hubs staffed by virtual interviewers who provide service to clients from any location, managing over 1,500 calls per month, with wait times of approximately 30 seconds.

Innovation is not, however, exclusive to technological advancements. Innovation can occur through our approach to solving complex issues and to building relationships. Perhaps the biggest innovations in British Columbia have been in our approach to key relationships, including a commitment to working collaboratively across the justice sector.

For example, we are working with the provincial court to reform aspects of how family matters are addressed by deliberately linking the court process with early assessment, referral and resolution services for families. This enhances access to justice by providing families with supports to resolve their problems in a less adversarial and more skill-building approach that can diminish the health and social impacts of family transitions on spouses and children, and lead to more durable solutions.

This approach is being used by the Victoria Early Resolution Project, which will develop, implement and evaluate a prototype in Victoria to test the following three elements:

  • early needs assessment designed to identify the legal and non-legal issues that families are experiencing and provide them with referrals;
  • publicly funded consensual dispute resolution; and
  • the family management conference designed to provide families with more active case management and to help prepare them for court.

 “Nothing about us, without us.” The Ministry has fully embraced this caveat and is finding new ways to work with Indigenous partners to advance our shared aims with respect to Indigenous peoples’ experience of the justice system. Our efforts include:

  • meaningful and ongoing collaboration with the B.C. Aboriginal Justice Council and Métis Nation B.C.;
  • developing conceptual models for Indigenous justice centres;
  • reforming our approach to Gladue; and
  • exploring the use and expansion of Indigenous courts.

The province of British Columbia has committed, as an act of reconciliation, to adopt and implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and the 10 Draft Principles guiding British Columbia’s relationships with Indigenous peoples. Taken together, these documents establish an expectation of how we will work with Indigenous peoples in B.C. This approach is reflected in the 2017 Memorandum of Understanding between the province and the B.C. Aboriginal Justice Council to develop an Indigenous justice strategy.

We are committed to moving beyond past approaches where services were designed and delivered for Indigenous peoples, to working together in partnership and collaboration to design and deliver services with Indigenous nations, organizations and communities.

Finally, as we embrace innovation, we recognize the potential for failure and the need to take measured risks to achieve desired outcomes. Some of our risk taking will inevitably result in opportunities to learn from our mistakes. The biggest risk is doing nothing and expecting the status quo to resolve the issues facing the justice sector.

Kurt Sandstrom has been the assistant deputy minister of Justice Services Branch, with the B.C. Ministry of the Attorney General, since June 2016. He also teaches Law, Public Policy and Dispute Resolution at the University of Victoria
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