BC’s Civil Resolution Tribunal Act, passed in May 2012 (not yet in force) sets the stage for an ambitious new tribunal that embraces modern notions of technology and access to justice.
The Civil Resolution Tribunal, expected to launch in the Autumn of 2014, will be North America’s first online tribunal. It will provide an alternative to court for people seeking to resolve small claims and strata property (condominium) disputes in BC. Users will have access to a full array of online tools to help manage and resolve their disputes fairly, quickly and cost effectively.
Online dispute resolution (ODR) processes will be at the forefront of the Tribunal’s services. There has been growing interest in ODR for some time (including many posts on Slaw) and some high volume users in the private context. But it has only recently begun to break through into mainstream public justice processes, with the passage of the Civil Resolution Tribunal Act, and with the passage of the ODR Regulation in the European Union.
The new Tribunal will not only be about technology. Its goal is to provide user-focused, accessible, inexpensive and collaborative dispute resolution services. Initial Tribunal phases will help users diagnose their problems, and then provide specific self-help, information and triage support. If these tools do not result in a resolution, the Tribunal will provide online negotiation and case management services to resolve, or at least to narrow, the issues and to facilitate communication and information sharing between the parties. If the parties cannot settle their disputes by agreement, the Tribunal can resolve them through adjudication. Tribunal orders will have the same effect as court judgments.
While the Tribunal will provide the structure and certainty of a public dispute resolution body, it will also have enough flexibility to address the needs of its users and their real-world circumstances. Processes will be simple, informal and proportionate to the disputes. If online services are not appropriate, the tribunal can rely on telephone, video or in-person meetings. Specialized case managers and tribunal members will have the subject matter expertise to evaluate the circumstances of the dispute and to work with the parties to arrive at an appropriate outcome through the Tribunal.
The Civil Resolution Tribunal offers an opportunity to rethink our approaches to civil justice. Some of the Tribunal’s philosophies and processes will seem radical compared to the status quo. But, in our current crisis of access to justice, these changes are exactly what we should be considering, or, in the case of the Civil Resolution Tribunal, working to implement as soon as possible.
As the Acting Chair of the Tribunal, I have begun to consult with a wide range of individuals and groups in an effort to design processes that will meet some of our ambitious goals. Through these consultations, I have heard some strongly supportive views, and some deeply felt concerns about the changes that the Tribunal will bring to our justice system. All of this feedback is accompanied by a desire to serve the best interests of the public.
In this spirit, I would l like to thank the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice for inviting me to write this post, and for its ongoing efforts to keep access to justice and system reform on the agenda across the country. On behalf of the Civil Resolution Tribunal, I am honoured to be part of this dialogue.
For more information about the Civil Resolution Tribunal go to: http://www.ag.gov.bc.ca/legislation/civil-resolution-tribunal-act/
Cheryl Vickers, Acting Chair, B.C. Civil Resolution Tribunal