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Jamie Maclaren, Access Pro Bono

New virtual family law project in B.C. aims to reduce court backlog, increase access to justice

Monday, June 21, 2021 @ 8:52 AM | By Ian Burns


An initiative has been launched in British Columbia aimed at reducing the backlog of separation and divorce matters in the courts while also trying to enhance access to justice in family law in the province.

The virtual family mediation project is an initiative of the Ministry of the Attorney General, the provincial court and Access Pro Bono (APB) alongside technology start-up Qase, and offers online family mediations for low and modest income families engaged in the provincial court’s early resolution process. To qualify for services under the project a person has to have filed for separation or divorce and have an income of less than $60,000 a year, after which they are registered for a free mediation session. If the other party in the case agrees to take part in the process, the mediation proceeds online, with APB also arranging for independent legal advice if needed.

 APB executive director Jamie Maclaren

Jamie Maclaren, APB executive director

APB executive director Jamie Maclaren said he had been working with Qase for several years to help expand the reach of its lawyer referral and pro bono services and has also been looking at applying the platform’s technology to its justice access centres.

“And what happened more recently was the provincial court introduced its early resolution process for people with separation and divorce matters, which involves a certain amount of mandatory mediation,” he said. “But we knew there was a need for free mediations, so we combined the services we had with Qase and our relationship with the provincial court and the attorney general’s office to create a project which enables us to connect lawyers and mediators with clients anywhere in the province.”

Maclaren said approximately 60 lawyers and mediators have been signed up to volunteer.

“You hear of statistics in family courts which say about 80 per cent of family litigants in British Columbia are unrepresented, and of course the inherent nature of family disputes can be quite stressful and traumatic to everyone involved,” he said. “So this is a helpful tool in increasing access to justice British Columbia, and it is really important in this context because we know that people are needing to engage the mediation process more and more which can save them a lot of time stress and money if they are able to find a settlement early in the process, rather than later at trial or otherwise.”

Attorney General David Eby said taking issues like child support or parenting time out of the courtroom wherever possible reduces stress and leads to better outcomes for families.

“This is another great example of how technology can improve access to justice and deliver a system that better supports the needs of British Columbians, wherever they are in the province,” he said.

More information can be found here.

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