by Wendi Mackay
The Administrative Justice Project’s white paper, “On Balance: Guiding Principles for Administrative Justice Reform in British Columbia” was released by the Attorney General in early August. The white paper makes recommendations to government for significant reforms to BC’s administrative justice system. Public comment on the white paper has been invited until November 15, 2002.
The Administrative Justice Project was established in July 2001 to recommend ways to ensure that administrative tribunals meet the needs of the people they serve, that their administrative processes are transparent, that their mandates are modern and relevant, and that they have the legislative powers and policy framework they require to carry out their independent mandates effectively.
The white paper concludes a year-long review of BC’s administrative justice system. As part of its work, the Project facilitated the core services review of administrative tribunals and consulted widely with tribunal members, government officials, and the legal community. The Project also considered experiences in other Canadian and common law jurisdictions and produced background papers for public comment.
The white paper recommends that government undertake a two-year program of reform to strengthen the administrative justice system, improve public access and services, reduce complexity, and foster an appropriate balance between independent adjudicative decision-making and public accountability.
Key recommendations for changes within tribunals include:
- Establishing an appointment process that is open, transparent, and merit based;
- Adopting consistent practices for term, tenure, and termination of appointments;
- Providing a role for tribunal chairs in the appointment of tribunal members;
- Developing more consistent statutory powers so that those involved with administrative tribunals know what to expect, including powers to call witnesses, order the production of documents, make procedural rules, and determine what standard of review to apply to decisions;
- Strengthening public accountability through operating agreements between host ministries and tribunals, clearly spelling out roles and responsibilities for tribunal management, planning, staffing, facilities and budgets.
Key recommendations for changes within ministries include:
- Consolidating tribunal services in fewer host ministries to build upon policy and planning expertise and accountability measures within ministries;
- Establishing a central administrative justice office within the Ministry of Attorney General.
Other planned initiatives will encourage better decision-making earlier in the adjudicative process. These initiatives will emphasize informal reviews, reconsiderations, and more opportunities to use alternative dispute resolution techniques that are appropriate and proportionate to the needs of each tribunal and the public they serve.
A comprehensive and cost-effective public consultation strategy is being planned for this fall. Input from this consultation will help ensure that public resources are directed to areas where they will be most effective and that the system itself will continue to be able to provide courteous service, timely decisions and fair treatment to every British Columbian who comes to an administrative tribunal for a decision or the resolution of a dispute.
Wendi Mackay is the Director of the Administrative Justice Project in the Ministry of Attorney General.
White Paper Comments
The white paper on administrative justice reform, supporting reports, and background papers are available at www.gov.bc.ca/ag. Members of the legal community are encouraged to provide comments to the Project on the white paper by: tel: 250.387.0058, fax: 250.387.0079, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or mail: Administrative Justice Project, Ministry of Attorney General, PO Box 9210, Stn Prov Govt, Victoria, BC V8W 9J1
This article was published in the October 2002 issue of BarTalk. © 2002 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.