How Are We Doing on the Shift to Use-Centred Approaches?

In 2015 I wrote a Slaw post entitled “What Does a “user-centred” Approach Really Mean??” I tried to paint a picture of what “user-centred” means in the context of the BC justice system. I would say it was a good first try but drew mostly on examples from other sectors.

Four and a half years later, we have more local examples of how the BC justice system is shifting towards a more user-centric approach including the following:

ONE: The first example is the work of Access to Justice BC (A2JBC). It advocates for a new approach to justice reform that is collaborative, user-centred, innovative and evidence-driven. It accepts that “looking at the justice system from the point of view of the users of the system has the potential to be transformative” [Note 1].

In the fall of 2019, A2JBC’s Leadership Group learned about the connection between ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) and negative health and well-being outcomes in adult life. Parental separation is often an ACE. The group heard directly from one courageous teenager who described how the justice system had exacerbated her already difficult situation. As a result, the Leadership Group developed a Statement of Commitment that takes a child-centred approach. Chief Justice Robert Bauman’s post of December 9, 2019 describes these events under the title “Putting children at the centre”.

TWO: A second real-world local example is Mediate BC’s public legal education program which recently published two new videos about family mediation. These focus on two families who used mediation to resolve separation issues and they are unique because they allow the parents to tell their own stories about their experience in mediation and how it affected their well-being. One parent says:

“We are still a family but a new dynamic…still show love and respect and care and the kids see that for sure. They see it and they feel it. You give yourself a chance for success. I strongly feel that mediation gave us that chance.”

This statement tells me that this parent felt that the mediation process put the needs of her family and children at the centre, with family-centred outcomes.

The videos also feature the mediators who worked with these couples in a client-centred way. One mediator says:

“I want to encourage my clients…to live out the story they want to live out.”

I suspect that mediation has always been more user-centred than litigation. However, it is not easy for separating parents to consider telling their stories publicly so perhaps that is why we haven’t seen as many “testimonials” in this context.

Many legal professionals (in a wide variety of practice areas) say they provide client-centred services. But are they checking in with their clients about this? Clients are looking for this assurance before selecting legal counsel. As Teresa Matich, editor of the Clio blog, said:

Running a client-centered law firm means putting your clients at the center of your thinking. This goes beyond the legal deliverable you provide: Being client-centered means truly putting yourself in your client’s shoes and looking at the experience of hiring a lawyer and going through a legal matter from their point of view—and thinking through how you can provide a good client experience in a way that’s efficient for your firm.

THREE: The third and final example is that the recent amendments to the Divorce Act will prioritize the best interests of children (Section 16). Section 16(3) provides a list of best-interest criteria. Of most interest is:

“16(3)(e) the child’s views and preferences, giving due weight to the child’s age and maturity, unless they cannot be ascertained.”

This is similar to section 37(2)(b) of the BC Family Law Act and is consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Articles 3 and 12 – voice and participation).

The child’s best interests are often interpreted through the perspective of the adult (the judge, the parent, the lawyer or advocate) which means that they are filtered through the adult’s assumptions, biases and self-interest. These provisions mandate consideration of the child’s own preferences and views – definitely a child-centred approach. This is the foundation of the Youth Voices initiative which aims to enhance the well-being and resilience of children experiencing parental separation using human-centred design. It still remains to be seen how these new top-down provisions and policies are reflected in day-to-day practice. I remain hopeful.

Certainly, there are many more than three examples! Feel free to add more in the comments below. The point is that in the space of just over four years we have quite a few home-grown examples of how the system is shifting, perhaps slowly but shifting all the same, towards a user/family/child/client-centred approach.

I hope that the examples will proliferate in the next four years!


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