Focus On
B.C. Chief Justice Robert Bauman

Twitter town hall to explore access to justice in B.C.

Friday, October 25, 2019 @ 9:07 AM | By Ian Burns

A pair of B.C. judicial heavyweights will be lending their voice to the conversation about access to justice Mon., Oct. 28 as the provincial court hosts a Twitter town hall to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the justice system in the province.

The town hall, which runs from noon to 2:00 p.m., will be hosted on the B.C. provincial court’s Twitter account @BCProvCourt and will offer law students, lawyers and others interested in access to justice an opportunity to participate in a live discussion with B.C. Chief Justice Robert Bauman, Provincial Court Chief Judge Melissa Gillespie and former self-represented litigant Jennifer Muller.

By using the hashtag #A2JChatBC, participants will be able to interact with the justices and Muller to discuss the progress people are seeing on the access to justice front, the opportunities the access to justice movement offers and the challenges people face when trying to improve access.

Chief Judge Gillespie said the provincial court has found that use of the Twitter account provides for an avenue for two-way engagement with the public. The court has held two Twitter town halls before, in 2016 and 2017.

“It allows us to share information and provides an opportunity for us to hear from the public. Our court’s digital communications co-ordinator regularly tweets on topics related to the courts and law,” she said. “As more people use technology, Twitter is just one tool that allows us to reach out to people, but it is an important tool. We still use the more traditional methods like speaking to various groups and providing information on our website, but we want to be as accessible as possible which means using a variety of means to engage with the people of B.C.”

B.C. Chief Justice Robert Bauman

Chief Justice Bauman said Twitter was chosen as a way to get the message out because “social media is how people get their information.”

“I like that Twitter is a two-way street, in that the panel participants can answer questions, but members of the profession and the public can educate and better inform us about their concerns,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to learn and, from my point of view, to communicate about some of the fundamental values and principles enmeshed with the access to justice problem, including the rule of law, impartial decision-making and an independent judiciary.”

The biggest issues with respect to access to justice in B.C. are in family and civil law, said Chief Justice Bauman. He added there is a “huge percentage of unmet legal need out there” and the challenge is in providing people who do not have access to the tools, knowledge and people needed in order to meet those needs.

“I hope to provide leadership, inspire, coordinate, give voice to the issues. As Chief Justice, I don’t have authority to tell other groups and organizations what to do — I don’t have all the answers anyway — but I attempt to use the moral authority of my office to bring together and motivate others within the justice system,” he said. “Access to justice is a complex problem without a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s going to take dedicated resources, co-ordinated action and collaboration to move the dial. Perhaps most importantly, we need to start putting the user at the centre of the system.”

Chief Judge Gillespie said she believes that B.C. has a well-regarded justice system “but there can always be improvements in providing equal access for all and offering more information to individuals that come before our court.”

“For anyone working on access to justice, I think the focus needs to be on making a clear case that sets out the potential benefits and challenges associated with a change and a willingness to start the process,” she said.

The Twitter town hall will kick off Access to Justice Week B.C., which runs from Oct. 28 to Nov. 1. Chief Justice Bauman said, within appropriate bounds given the constraints of judicial independence, he would take the issues during the town hall “to those in a position to do something about them.”

“These discussions are important for informing us about the problem, but the ultimate aim is always concrete action and changes that will help people avoid, manage and resolve their legal problems,” he said.

It is through forums like the Twitter town hall that new ideas about how to improve access can be raised, said Chief Judge Gillespie.

“The information and feedback we receive during the Twitter town hall can be assessed to see what we can do to better serve the public,” she said. “This kind of exchange of information and frank discussion helps us to understand what the challenges are, and look to see if there are steps we can take to increase accessibility while maintaining the rule of law and fair processes.”

If people are interested but not able to participate on Oct. 28, they can tweet #A2JChatBC or e-mail beforehand with questions and comments. However, commenting on individual cases will not be allowed.