A model of modern justice

  • February 09, 2021
  • Tatum Miller

Is court a place or a service? Traditional notions of court have been thoroughly dashed by the COVID-19 pandemic, with many across the world forced to cease operations. However, in British Columbia, the online Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) has continued to operate seamlessly since it operated remotely before the pandemic, and should serve as a global model for delivering justice online.

BC’s CRT is Canada’s first and only online tribunal. It resolves small claims disputes up to $5,000. Prior to its full operation in 2017, parties would have had to appear in small claims court.

Applicants to the CRT use the free, anonymous, and confidential online Solution Explorer which asks questions about the dispute and gives legal information based on the answers. It classifies the dispute and gives the applicant the appropriate online application form.

Parties upload evidence online, and the case is assigned to a tribunal member. If an oral hearing is required, it’s done via video conferencing. The majority of disputes are resolved through settlements, and a small number go to adjudication with decisions made available to the public.

The tribunal has been particularly helpful for participants with young children, from rural areas, or from vulnerable populations. COVID-19 has not impacted the CRT’s ability to operate, compared to traditional courts, since the staff are fully remote. “We’ve been able to keep doors open and operating normally,” says CRT chair Shannon Salter.

Online dispute resolution is catching on worldwide, with a new initiative in the U.K. emerging based on BC’s CRT. “If we can help” other jurisdictions implement online solutions, the tribunal will do so, says Salter. Richard Susskind, the world’s most cited author on the future of legal services, discusses the CRT in his book Online Courts and the Future of Justice.1

As a law student who volunteers in pro-bono legal clinics, I have seen first-hand how easy the CRT is to use for applicants seeking justice. The system holds the user’s hand, and asks appropriate questions and suggests the proper forms to submit.

The data suggest most users have a positive experience, with 97% agreeing that the CRT was easy to use, and 81% saying the CRT was handled in a timely manner in the most recent December 2020 participant satisfaction survey.

Court is a public service, and as such ought to embrace technological advances. Justice can be made more accessible and over time more cost-effective by removing overhead and increasing the efficiency of resolution. Like medical professionals adopting telehealth, the world’s legal professionals should be investigating and implementing impactful tech-forward approaches to delivering and making justice more accessible.

Tatum Miller is a law student at the University of Victoria, and president of the UVic LawTech Society.

End notes

1 See also this article in Canadian Lawyer.