B.C.'s top judge is teaming up with ordinary citizens to improve the province's civil justice system, after numerous reports have shed light on how difficult it is for people without legal training to access justice.

The justice system is not doing a good enough job of helping Canadians access the legal services they need when faced with a civil court case, says Access to Justice B.C., a group made up of advocates from both inside and outside the justice system.

"We're failing the users of our system and that's who should be our partners in this reform process," said Robert Bauman, Chief Justice of B.C., and the group's chair.

"We've got to figure out how to ease the access issue for … the middle class in this country, where litigation is simply beyond the means of ordinary people."

Bauman says he intends to start by reforming family law services first.

"We've now designated family law as our first target. We're looking for action, we're not looking for reports."

Reforms could include:

  • improving access to probono services & legal aid.
  • simplifying court proceses.
  • allowing paralegals & law students to represent clients in court.

For people who are not lawyers

Some people end up representing themselves in court rather than hiring a lawyer because legal costs can be too high.

B.C. resident Jennifer Muller represented herself in court because hiring a lawyer proved to be too expensive.

"I did hire a lawyer. In fact, research shows that the majority of people who end up self-representing begin with legal counsel," she said.

"Due to the high cost and affordability, [they] have to let council go."

Jennifer Muller Robert Bauman

Jennifer Muller and Chief Justice Robert Bauman are members of Access to Justice B.C., a group that aims to improve the legal system for the province's residents. (Charlie Cho/CBC)

After that difficult experience, she joined Access to Justice B.C.

"The formal justice system is really set up for lawyers and for judges, it was never intended for lay people to access and utilize," said Muller.

"Court documents are complex, processes are unclear, it's very very challenging and daunting for an ordinary middle class British Columbian to navigate."


To listen to the full interview, click the link labelled: New Access to Justice B.C. group formed.