Vancouver Sun April 5, 2020. Ian Mulgrew: As quoted:
Attorney General David Eby reflects on B.C.’s crippled court system and the collapse of access to justice across the country as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and finds a reason to hope.
There are big challenges. He doesn’t have numbers or any modelling yet on the expected backlog in what were already clogged courtrooms. But he’s sure what doesn’t kill us, will make us stronger.
Eby agreed — the closure of court except for urgent reasons, triggered by the coronavirus, has affected every person, company or legal entity in the justice system or trying to access it.
“People have been expecting court dates they have been waiting years for and we have certain obligations, especially for people in custody, to have matters heard in a timely way and it’s a matter of justice for people with civil claims or getting family matters resolved,” Eby said by telephone on Friday.
“When you put those two things together, it’s been possible for governments and various actors in the justice system to kick the ball down the road,” he said. “I’m hopeful given the tone of everybody right now — the courts, the law societies, the notaries, my office — we’re in a place where people are ready to do whatever is necessary to ensure access to justice is delivered.”
Eby sketched out what he saw as three stages the legal system would go through dealing with the novel coronavirus.
“We are still in Phase 1, which is getting as many services delivered to people as possible in a triage kind of manner, dealing with things like limitation periods, the liability of service providers and making sure the courts can receive urgent applications and hear them and that the tribunals continue to operate as normally as possible.”
Conversations that had begun with the federal government and other provinces are a prelude to Phase 2 — “how do we implement some pieces that may be able to last beyond this crisis and may be able to deliver services more efficiently in ways that we hadn’t thought of before that have been enabled by this crisis?”
“So those Phase 2 pieces are as much triage, and may have lasting impacts are starting to take shape.”
Another bright spot was the Civil Tribunal Resolution — which continues to operate with barely a cough and now more tribunals are adopting its software and online model.
Those are the kind of changes and adaptations Eby sees rolling out during Phase 2.
“Phase 3, which we are in the initial stages of planning for, is what do we do with this huge backlog that is going to be in place on the civil side and the criminal side, post-pandemic,” he said.
“We are in the very early stages of that conversation, of how do we alleviate the access to justice concerns that this will raise for us and for people across the country?”
The situation involving families has him particularly worried — family law is what he receives the most correspondence about.
“Part of that is the emotion and the personal relationships that are at stake and part of it is the fact that the court system is very ill-suited at resolving family disputes,” he said.
“There is no question that the chief justice is a thought leader and a sort of moral compass for the legal system in B.C. and likely in Canada, and maybe even beyond that now,” he noted.
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