This is my first column for Slaw, and I have been trying to decide where to begin. I’d like to tell you a bit about the story of the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice, but also want to share some of our resources and projects. Since Simon has promised that there will be more columns to follow, I‘ll keep this one focused on just one of our online resources — the Inventory of Reforms.
First though, a bit about the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice. The Forum was created in 1998 to foster knowledge and understanding of civil and family justice systems, and to facilitate positive changes to civil justice for all Canadians. The Forum works collaboratively with all sectors of the justice community, providing expertise in the civil justice systems and in developing reforms aimed at improving access to justice.
The impetus for creating the Forum was the Canadian Bar Association Task Force on the Systems of Civil Justice, which took place in 1995-96 and produced a report with 53 recommendations falling into 7 key areas:
- Creating a multi-option justice system, which encouraged the incorporation of dispute resolution models into our justice system.
- Reducing delay in our civil and family processes.
- Reducing cost.
- Improving the public understanding of our civil and family justice systems.
- Preserving the integrity of the Courts.
- Focusing on the needs of legal professionals within this emerging model.
- Increasing the focus on civil justice.
In this final cluster of recommendations, #52 called for the creation of a national organization which would serve as a clearinghouse to share information about the civil justice systems and civil justice reforms, and would undertake in-depth research in order to establish an evidence-base for the ongoing process of reform. The Forum was established at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law and has been fulfilling this mandate through a variety of online resources, publications, research projects, education programs and collaborations.
Under our Constitution in Canada, responsibility for civil procedure falls to each province and territory along with a federal jurisdiction, so there are 14 separate civil justice systems in Canada. There has been a significant amount of reform undertaken in every jurisdiction, and our online Inventory of Reforms grew out of the desire of justice community stakeholders to keep track of and learn from these initiatives.
The Inventory contains descriptions of reform initiatives from across the country, each described according to a standard format that includes information on the purpose, development, implementation and evaluation of the reform. The inventory concept was first discussed by members of our justice community at our 2006 Into the Future conference. The Canadian Judicial Council Administration of Justice Committee provided funding for the initial research, which focused on reforms in five key areas relating to the cost of justice: proportionality, experts, point of entry assistance, discovery and caseflow management. Sixty reforms were identified and included in the Inventory, and a summary of the research is available in a 2008 Report on Selected Reform Initiatives .
The national Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters has recommended the continued development of the Inventory, and in 2009 the Canadian Bar Law for the Future Fund provided funding for the continued expansion and updating of the collection. This research resulted in the addition of 68 new records and the updating of 45 records, with trends in the reforms identified in the report on the Inventory of Reforms Research. This further expansion was again focused on reforms relating to cost and include reforms aimed at improving the public understanding, innovations in providing advice and representation, changes to the systems and procedures in our courts, ADR initiatives, reducing delay through Court supervision of the progress of cases, procedures designed to reduce cost and the use of technology.
The Inventory provides insight into the large number of reforms that have been undertaken throughout the country, and confirmation that the justice system is undergoing constant review and renewal. This ongoing renewal means that there will always be a need to update and expand the Inventory, however it is already a much-used resource on our website, making up more than half of the recorded page views. I will be interested to receive your comments on the Inventory, including suggestions for future development of this resource. In a future column I will tell you about an online Thesaurus of Civil Justice Terminology that will be integrated into our Inventory and Clearinghouse in the coming months.