Law Society participates in working group developing new Civil Resolution Tribunal

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Justice announced Bill 44, the Civil Resolution Tribunal Act – a plan to create a new, voluntary process for the resolution of strata and small claims disputes. The Act also included provision for online services to assist in the resolution of disputes by agreement.

Though the Act raised concerns, the Law Society remains optimistic that involvement of the legal community in the development of the tribunal will ensure the new process is implemented without compromising the integrity of the justice system and the rule of law. The ministry has now established the working group, comprised of representatives from the Law Society, the Canadian Bar Association, the Trial Lawyers Association of BC, Mediate BC, the Justice Services Branch and condominium and strata associations.

“The Law Society sees participation in the working group as the best remaining way to ensure that people do not voluntarily give up their right to representation by counsel without ensuring that they make a fully informed decision,” said Law Society president, Bruce LeRose, QC.

The Act provides for three progressive stages. The first stage will involve party-to-party negotiations using online tools. The next stage will involve a case manager, who will attempt to facilitate a resolution. The final stage will be a tribunal hearing which would result in a binding decision.

While the Act generally provides that the parties not be represented by a lawyer in a tribunal proceeding, a lawyer may represent a child or a person with impaired capacity and as the rules permit in the interests of justice and fairness. The Law Society has been advised that nothing precludes any participant in the process from obtaining legal advice about their matter before or at any time during the process. But as the Act provides that the court may order someone to participate in the process, and thereby require participation without representation, the Law Society will ensure the prospect of such orders form part of its representation in the work group.

“The right to counsel is a crucial right in a free and democratic society, and the Law Society recognizes and fully supports that right,” said LeRose. “We also recognize that every day in this province citizens make the decision to participate in proceedings without representation by counsel, some by choice but most because of cost.”

In addition to the pro bono contribution by many members of the profession, the Law Society will continue to address the cost of accessing justice and take steps to ameliorate that cost through initiatives such as expanding the scope of duties that articled students and paralegals can perform under the supervision of a lawyer, and other initiatives presently under consideration.

“However, despite all our best efforts,” explained LeRose, “if there remain citizens who will be unrepresented by counsel in any forum because they can’t afford the legal fees, we need to work with everyone involved in the justice system to find solutions.”