With the financial crunch that has hit courts, jurisdiction after jurisdiction has asked what ADR’s role should be. Should ADR be the method through which courts can both serve litigants and save money, or is it a financial burden on courts that should be eliminated or privatized? In many courts in the US, the answer has been the latter. This was seen most recently with the closure of Los Angeles County’s ADR program – the largest in the country. As mediators there work to develop a private system to replace services the court once provided, the government of British Columbia is moving in a different direction. There, the eye is on developing integrated administrative systems, including ADR, that would limit use of the courts to those disputes most appropriate for litigation.
British Columbia’s Ministry of Justice is looking to transform the justice system with the goal of providing transparent, timely and balanced justice. In its White Paper on Justice Reform Part Two: A Timely, Balanced Justice System, the ministry envisions a system that:
- increases the likelihood of early resolution and decreases reliance on litigation
- provides a method for filtering cases to the correct dispute resolution option at the beginning
- focuses on the needs of citizens
- uses integrated and collaborative approaches
- develops processes that are based on empirical data and best practices
The paper is a blueprint for rethinking the provision of justice. For the ministry, this means routing disputes away from the court system and funneling them through an administrative filter to find the right process for the individual case at hand. This filter would move many civil disputes from courts to more “user-friendly” administrative processes. Doing so would require, in some cases, integrating services from different agencies so that citizens’ needs are met more efficiently and uniformly. It also would require the development of new services, such as online dispute resolution for small civil cases – a process that will soon be made available.
I’m fascinated by the implications of this reformation of justice, in which the courts become just one of a series of public options, and in which all services are accessible through one portal. It seems that it could be a more efficient and accessible way to provide justice than the privatization route that is being taken in the US. But what will the diminished role of the courts mean for society as a whole?