BC Justice Review Task Force update

Howard Kushner  
Deputy Attorney General Allan Seckel, QC (left) and Assistant Deputy Minister Jerry McHale, QC address the Benchers at their October meeting.  

Deputy Attorney General Allan Seckel, QC reported to the October Benchers’ meeting, confirming that the BC Justice ­Review Task Force is on track to recommend new Supreme Court Rules to the provincial government for implementation by 2010.

The Deputy Attorney General summarized the task force’s vision as “early solutions, faster justice.” He noted the dramatic rise in the cost, complexity and duration of judicial proceedings over the past decade, and linked those increases to diminishing access to justice and public confidence in the judicial process.

“The number of BC Supreme Court trials has declined by 50 per cent, and the time consumed by an average trial has increased by 100 per cent,” Seckel reported.

He said the task force has two broad goals:

  • making the judicial process more streamlined and accessible; and
  • providing integrated information and services to support solutions to legal problems through “hubs” or “judicial access centres.”

In July, the task force posted a concept draft of the new rules to its online forum — bcjusticereviewforum.ca/civilrules — for review and comment. Seckel noted that the deadline for comments from the profession has been extended from October 31, 2007 to November 30, 2007.

Work is already underway to implement the “hub” recommendations. Jerry McHale, QC, an assistant deputy minister in the attorney general’s ministry, said that the first family justice hub is now operating in Nanaimo. The Nanaimo Family Justice Services Centre opened in April 2007 as a pilot project. A partnership of the ­Legal Services Society and the Ministry of Attorney General, the Nanaimo hub emerged from a proposal contained in a report ­released last fall by the BC Justice Review Task Force’s Family Justice Reform Working Group.

That report called for the creation of “Family Justice Information Hubs,” to provide information on all aspects of family law and family dispute resolution. The ­family justice hubs are to be prepared to help people learn about their rights, ­obligations and options, and to refer people to the services they need. The hubs are to be located in communities throughout BC — often in courthouses — and are to be accessible by internet.

A civil law hub will be added in Nanaimo in the new year and family and civil hubs will open in Vancouver next spring, also on a pilot basis.

Seckel stressed that the hub concept is intended to supplement and not replace direct access to counsel and the courts. “Our objective is to provide support and increase access without taking away existing individual choice and flexibility,” he explained. “We want to establish multi-disciplinary centres to offer assessment of legal problems and to provide referrals. We see this as a triage approach, focused more on identifying and responding to people’s actual needs.”

For more see: www.bcjusticereview.org and nanaimo.familyjustice.bc.ca.