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How ODR Improves Access to Justice

How ODR Improves Access to Justice

In this interview Shannon Salter talks about how the Civil Resolution Tribunal (British Columbia’s Online Dispute Resolution initiative) can radically improve access to justice. You’ll also learn more about some of the implications and opportunities for Mediators as the technology becomes more mainstream.¬†Shannon shares some valuable insights for anyone considering similar initiatives outside of Canada.

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Transcript

Full Transcript

Aled: Hi everyone, my name is Aled Davies, founder of MediatorAcademy.com. Home of the passionate mediator. You know what we do on here, we interview the very best mediators and thought leaders from right around the world. This is the place for us to learn about new opportunities in our field, as well as how to overcome some of the challenging dilemmas that life as a mediator, presents us. Ultimately, the goal here is to learn, grow, and improve our effectiveness.

My guest today is chair of Canada’s first ever online tribunal and grounds her leadership of the Civil Resolution Tribunal, in her long lasting commitment to access to justice. Particularly in the context of administrative tribunals. An active provider of pro bono legal advice and representation through her career, she’s also adjunct professor of administrative law at the UBC Faculty of Law, a commissioner of the Financial Institutions Commission, and vice president of the British Columbia Council of Administrative Tribunals. Whoo.

She has also served as vice chair of the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal, a litigation lawyer at a large Vancouver law firm, a board member of the College of Registered Nurses of British Columbia, and a judicial law clerk with the British Columbia Supreme Court.

I think I’ve got everything in there. There’s probably a lot more I’ve missed out. It’s a real pleasure to welcome, Shannon Salter, on to Mediator Academy. Shannon, welcome.

Shannon: Thank you, thank you for having me Aled.

Aled: I interviewed Darin very recently about the Civil Resolution Tribunal and the big project that you guys are doing, and he said, ”You must interview Shannon”. So here you are.

I want to find out a bit more about the initiative that you guys have been working on, over in British Columbia. I’m interested in learning about some of the challenges you’ve encountered in getting it off the ground. How you currently resource it? What the implications are, for mediators? What advice you’d give for somebody trying to do something similar over her, in England? All these sorts of things.

Let’s start right at the beginning. For anyone who hasn’t watched Darin Thompson’s interview, also known as the International Justice Celebrity.

Shannon: He loves that, by the way.

Aled: He loves that, right. Tell us a little bit more about the online tribunal.

Shannon: The Civil Resolution Tribunal, as you mentioned, will be Canada’s first online tribunal. It will have jurisdiction over what’s called, small claims matters, in British Columbia. These are civil disputes, about $25,000 or less – Canadian dollars. Things like debt, or contracts, personal injuries, specific performance. But the monetary value of those claims is low and the number of them is pretty high. There’s 22,000 claims like this, in BC, currently.

The Civil Resolution Tribunal will have jurisdiction over those claims. As well as what we call Strata, or condominium property claims, which I understand are roughly equivalent to sharers, and freeholder shares, and leasehold disputes, in your world.

Condominium disputes are disputes between owners who all live in the same building and share ownership over the underlying land title. In BC, in British Columbia, there are a million people who live in Strata or condominium type units. That number is increasing because older people, the baby boomers, are downsizing, selling their homes and moving into flats into these condominium units.

It’s an area that is growing really rapidly, not just in British Columbia, but across the country. Right now, owners who have disputes within these settings have to go to the court to resolve them, and it can be very expensive and time consuming. As a result, it’s really not a viable option for most people.

The Civil Resolution Tribunal, is going to give those people a forum in which to resolve their disputes very quickly, very conveniently, very inexpensively. Ideally, from their tablet, their mobile phone, their computer, in their home or in a coffee shop – wherever that they happen to be. So, the technology is one tool.

The other piece of the puzzle that’s just as important, or maybe more important, is giving people different tools. Not just having an adjudicative decision at the end, we offer that too, if that’s necessary. But first, front loading the process so that we’re putting a lot of effort into early resolution. Through facilitation, people with mediation skills, negotiation. Those kind of tools.

Aled: I’ve got a dispute with someone that lives above me, in my condominium and I’m looking for a way of resolving that dispute. How would I actually find out about this, if I was a member of the public?

Shannon: We have set up a website to give people information as we implement the tribunal. The tribunal is not up and running yet. We’re hoping it will be up and running later this year but we do have a website to explain to the public how this will work, it’s at civilresolutionbc.ca.

It’s voluntary for people, for the most part, there are some exceptions. It’s voluntary. People can use the existing court structure or they can use the CRT. Beyond the website, we’re trying to get the work out through advocacy groups, through the court registries, where people would go to file their complaint, to know that there is a different way to go about doing that. Building public awareness is really important and it’s a new thing, so it’s not intuitive for people to use yet.

Aled: Let’s say, later in the year that the website’s launched, I could go online, search for, ”How do I resolve this issue with my neighbour?”. Your website would come up in the search, I could go on it. What next?

Shannon: The front end of the Civil Resolution Tribunal is something that Darin is really heading up, which is what we’re calling the, Solution Explorer. It’s a series of guided pathways, which is really like an intelligent questionnaire. People would pick the area of their dispute. They would answer some questions about the nature of their dispute. Along the way they’d be given really targeted pieces of legal information and tools to resolve the dispute on their own, to take a crack at it themselves.

We know from research now, that it’s not useful just to scan a bunch of PDFs and throw it up on a website, and say you’re providing legal information. You’re sending people adrift in an ocean by doing that.

Instead, what people need is to be spoon fed little bits of information that are directly relevant to their dispute. That’s what guided pathways lets you do because you can find out exactly what their trouble is, what the trouble spot is, and link that with resources. Like, template letters that they can send to the opposing party, for instance. Tools about how to manage high conflict situations.

At the end of that process they can either go off and use those tools to try and resolve the dispute themselves. Or, they can click a button and enter into the Civil Resolution Tribunal process, and then they’re carried along that process.

That process isn’t one size fits all, there’s a negotiation phase, initially. Then, a facilitation phase, which I think is really the heart of the Tribunal. That’s where I think the magic will happen, hopefully, through skilled mediators who we are calling facilitators. Then, there is adjudication as a last resort.

The adjudication process is where an adjudicator, a tribunal member, makes a binding decision and that’s enforceable as a court order. People do have certainty that at the end of the process they will have a final decision. One way or the other, their dispute will be resolved. But we’re giving people every opportunity along the way to help craft their own solution, to be empowered with choices about how it’s resolved. Then, if that fails, adjudication as a last resort.

Aled: I think it’s a brilliant idea. Just a question. What was the thinking behind using the term “facilitators” and not “mediators”?

Shannon: You picked up on that and that was conscious decision. You would know this better than I would. Mediators, especially in Canada, can sometimes think of mediation as meaning something very specific. Interspace mediation that has a particular process to it. The Civil Resolution Tribunal Act and the way we’re designing the process is much more flexible than that, is much broader than that.

Aled: Right.

Shannon: I think, if we called what we envision this dispute resolution process to be. If we call that “mediation”, I think it might annoy some mediators who say, ”Well, that’s not mediation. That’s something broader and it’s not something what I consider mediation”. We’re respectful of that but at the same time, we’re envisioning a process that’s fluid, that’s flexible. Where we’re giving people, who have dispute resolutions abilities, a wide variety of tools to help craft consensual agreements between the parties.

Aled: Okay. You talked about the volume of small claims cases currently in the court. You talked about the condominium number of tenants you’ve got, and that rising, and one would anticipate the number of disputes rising in conjunction with that. What are the problems that you’re trying to solve, more broadly, through this innovative initiative?

Shannon: I think, and this isn’t unique to Canada, or British Colombia, there’s an access to justice crisis. Not just in Canada, but really likely in a number of Western countries. In Canada, what that looks like, more particularly, in British Columbia, it means that there are significant delays to getting into court. Even at a small claims level, it can be months, if not years sometimes, depending on where you live in the province, to get into court.

British Columbia has a concentrated population in a few cities and then a number of rural communities, it’s a huge space. Many of the people who live in rural British Columbia, rural Canada, generally, don’t live anywhere near a courthouse. For them, to resolve their dispute within a court process, they often have to travel hundreds of kilometres to get to a courthouse, they incur travel cost, they have to take time of work, they have to arrange childcare. It’s expensive, time consuming, and very inconvenient.

At the end of that, both at the small claims court and at the superior level courts, the number of cases that actually end up in a trial is very, very slim. In the BC Supreme Court, that number is around 2% – 3%, it’s a little bit higher in the small claims court. But in the entire system is oriented towards that day in court, that, in the vast majority of cases, just never comes.

As a legal community, we have what is known in the social sciences as the “myth of settlement”. That, if 97% or 98% of these cases just go away, they must have settled on the courtroom steps, the system works. We know that that’s not true. We know that people run out of money, they get tired, evidence goes away, they get fed up. It takes a toll on people’s well-being and the underlying disputes, though, don’t necessarily go away.

What we’re doing is fundamentally different because we’re flipping that process on its head. Instead of putting all the resources on the backend, driving towards this event that we know almost never happens, we’re flipping it around, so we’re putting all the resources on the front end.

Get people in and out of the process early. Give them ownership over the process. Empower them with choices. Instead of making people go to where the justice system is, even if it’s nowhere near where they happen to live, and even if they can get there, it’s often very confusing and complicating. Literally, the language is not one that most people speak.

Instead, we have a real chance here to build the justice system around where people are. We go to them, we go to their living rooms, we go to their computers. We give them the choices about how they want to do it, about how they want to resolve their disputes. We do it in a really plain language, easy to understand way because it doesn’t need to be that complicated.

Aled: Justice isn’t this wood panelled room that people turn up in. It’s a service, it’s a user-centric service.

Shannon: Yeah, and I think it goes beyond that. We are used to engaging with services through technology. Our banking, bill payment, even paying our taxes. We’re certainly offering dispute resolution services but I think it’s more foundational to that.

This is where I get a little loftier, I think, than Darin. He’s a very pragmatic person, which has been phenomenal, but to me, I see this is as something more foundational. If you don’t give people an accessible way to resolve their disputes, you undermine civil society, you tear at the cloth of civil of society.

You promote vigilantism, you promote people’s disenfranchisement from democracy and society, generally. When you have a million people now, living in very close quarters, with the natural kind of community disputes that come up from that environment and don’t give them a viable way to resolve their disputes in a civil, respectful way, then you’re undermining your society.

Even though these disputes are small, I think, they’re small in terms of dollar value. They have a huge impact on peoples lives and, on an aggregate level, it’s foundational to society that people are given a reasonable way to resolve them.

Aled: I can see you’re really passionate about this.

Shannon: Yeah sorry, that’s true, I know I can get off on a rant there.

Aled: It’s really important, what you’re talking about. It’s so important, the philosophical underpinning of why you’re doing what you’re doing. Have you always been this driven, this motivated about improving access to justice? Is it something that you woke up one day and decided? Where does it come from?

Shannon: I think for many of us, law school really brought that to bear. You have opportunities to volunteer in law school to help people who need legal assistance.

Doing that, opens the door on a whole world of people for whom the existing system is just not accessible. It’s just not a possibility. I think, we know that in theory, in a lot of ways, but when you’re sitting in a legal advice clinic and people are coming in with their real problems and they can’t even navigate the first steps. You realise it’s not working for them, it’s failing them.

For me, that had a very powerful impact, I know it did for a lot of my classmates, as well. It’s something that’s really informed what I’ve wanted to do since. Even when I was in private practice, it was a big part of what I was doing and I’ve tried to keep that thread along my career.

Then, seeing this opportunity, I think it’s an incredible opportunity to just rebuild this little corner of the justice system. To go to where people are. If you have a civil problem and it’s not a family law problem, it’s likely to be a small claims problem. This is where people have an entry point into the justice system.

If we can change this part and it works, then maybe there’s implications for what we can do in other parts of the justice system, as well.

Aled: I wanted to come on to that. It’s really interesting how you’re describing your experiences volunteering as a student, and so on. Working on the ground, at the coal face, where the difference that you can make for one person’s life, or their family. You get, almost, an immediate bit of feedback, really. Your role now, you have a real opportunity to leverage change, right?

Shannon: Yeah, I think we do have a real opportunity. It’s going to be a question of whether we can really seize that. Whether we can roll it out and launch it in a way that inspires public confidence, and really demonstrate to them that we’re committed to improving it.

I think it’s really important to note that this is an experiment. It’s innovative, yes, but it’s an experiment. That means, it’s not going to work perfectly out of the box, it’s going to have glitches. When I’m talking to different groups and engaging with different communities, we talk about that.

That I’m depending on them to come back and tell us what’s not working and how to make it better. I’m also committed to going back and asking for that feedback, many times along the way. Not just in the implementation phase, but in the years after the tribunal operates as well.

Really it may sound nutty, but what I’m hoping to foster is this collective responsibility for this project. That we’re all invested in it, we all want it to succeed, but that means it’s going to be about improving it together, about continually improving it together.

The technology lets us do that. It lets us be agile with improvements. We’re not going to be waiting two or three years down the road for a study about what’s working and what’s not working. If someone tells us “There’s a dead link here” or “You’ve forgotten this string.” That’s something we can build up right away, the next day or the next week.

Aled: Technology is incredible. I was working with a programme today, it’s called Optimizely, and Optimizely is a SaaS product, Software as a Service, that enables you to A/B test certain aspects of your website. Do you understand the concept?

Shannon: Yeah.

Aled: I played around with changing the text on a button that says, ”Join Now”, or, ”Get Started”. I did that this morning. By the end of the day I can make a decision based on data as to which one gets more clicks. You can make changes that are data driven, are influenced, not by one’s inference or feeling.

I think that’s important, building something people need, want, and will use, rather than what you think is good for them.

Shannon: No, that’s right. I think it’s especially important to have that humility in an access-to-justice project. We’re going out and meeting with all kinds of groups that are not telling us what we would love to hear, that, ”Everything’s going to be just fine” and their clients won’t have any trouble.

We’re seeking out people who might have barriers to using the CRT. People who might have mental health barriers, language barriers, accessibility barriers, and we’re actively working with them to identify where those difficulties might lie and how we can address them.

I think you have to do that. If you have an access-to-justice project and you’re saying it’s an access-to-justice project, then it better account for people who have barriers.

I think, this is going to work fantastically for the 80%-90% of people who are reasonably computer literate, in the the sense that they can use a smartphone and maybe pay their bills online, use email. But we also have to concern ourselves with people who may not be as comfortable with the technology or might have these barriers.

There’s lots that, actually, we can do to make it a more comfortable place for them, but it requires removing your ego a little bit and saying, ”I’m not assuming that I know what’s best for you. I need to ask you what’s going to work and what’s not going to work, and I need to keep checking back”.

I think that’s really, really key, is not going on just what you think is best. It’s not a “father knows best” approach to justice reform. It has to be from the ground up. You have to be working with the people who will actually use the resource.

Aled: It’s a lovely website, it’s very clean. It actually looks more like somebody’s blog. It doesn’t look like an official government, it’s a lovely looking thing. I noticed on there, there was a post where you are recruiting for facilitators?

Shannon: Tribunal.

Aled: Tribunal members. Is that right?

Shannon: Yes. In British Columbia, it’s the government that appoint the tribunal members in consultation with the chair, for the most part, of the tribunal. The government is recruiting part-time members and the deadline closes today for that. Yeah, that’s one exciting milestone that we’re moving forward with.

We’re getting some of these tribunal members who will be in place, even though there won’t be any decisions for them to make for a few months, yet. It’s part of having the human infrastructure, behind the technology, ready and in place, so that when the time comes it can all launch.

What you were saying about the website, that was intentional. I think that’s also trying to remove the ego. As lawyers, we get very attached to the way we talk, and we think that the way we talk conveys our intellect, our education, our knowledge. But it can get in the way of actually communicating properly with members of the public who don’t have that legal background.

We really tried to make this implementation website as inviting as possible, as plain language, it’s written at a very entry-level, language level. That I found, personally, was quite a humbling exercise because I would write content that I though was really plain language. Then I would send it to my colleague in Victoria, Lisa – who, actually knows how to write in a plain language manner.

She would rewrite it and send it back to me and I’d say, ”Wow. Yeah, that’s actually properly what somebody without knowledge in this area would need to read to understand it”. It did show how hard it is to get outside of your own framework, but you need to do that.

Maybe, you need to hire experts to do that, to write things in plain language. That’s again, not taking a paternalistic approach to justice reform. Instead, you go to where people are and you communicate in a way that’s easy for them to understand.

Aled: Is it Libertarian Paternalism?

Shannon: Is it a Libertarian . . .?, what do you mean by that?

Aled: Have you come across the concept of “nudge”?

Shannon: I haven’t.

Aled: Okay, it’s a great book, I recommend it, “Nudge”. It’s about libertarian paternalism. You’re trying to help people make better choices. It’s a bit like, if you’ve got a queue of children or adults at a cafeteria and you put all the fruit and salad at eye level and all the chocolate and cream cakes just out of eye level. They can still access the chocolate and cream cakes but you are nudging them to make a better choice by presenting the more healthy options.

Shannon: I see.

Aled: It’s quite an interesting phenomena really.

Shannon: Right.

Aled: By presenting something where people can make freely informed – it’s a voluntary thing to participate in this – they can make freely informed choices but you want to make it as appealing and as easy for them to use, just to encourage them and invite them to use it.

Shannon: Yeah, and I would not like to characterise us as libertarian or paternalistic. It sounds sort of like, Santa Claus meets Ayn Rand, or something. As fascinating as that is, I think, what we’re trying to do is democratise this process.

Aled: Yes.

Shannon: To remove barriers that act as gate keepers for people to access this. The way you do that is you make it less intimidating. The legal system can be intimidating for lawyers, never mind somebody who doesn’t have the experience or the resources to access it. When you remove the language barrier, you certainly remove all Latin, but you remove other complicated ways of explaining things. Then you make it more accessible.

It’s not that a lot of these concepts are so complicated. There’s no reason they can’t be explained in terms that people really understand, but if we’re trying to make an alternative, it really does need to look quite different from the existing path. It needs to speak to people.

I would like people to be able to visit that website and say, ”I understand what this means. I think I can do this, I think I can do this”. Not to shy away because they’re so scared of making a mistake or being embarrassed, or it just seems too daunting. I see that as our role.

This is just the implementation site and it is meant to be sort of an informal blog-type thing. But the actual CRT site, when we’re up and running, needs to have the same feel. It needs to instill confidence in people to empower them. To make them say, ”Yeah, this is my dispute and I’m going to be able to resolve it on my terms. When I’m done work, when the kids are in bed. When I have a moment to think and I’m going to be able to take a break if I need to go get more information or some help. I’m going to be able to propose my own solutions along the way”.

Every chance you have to take ownership of it and to participate in your justice system, that’s what we’re trying to give people.

Aled: I can’t wait for it. When are you thinking it’s going to launch? I can’t wait to see it.

Shannon: All of us can’t wait to see it either. Our best guess is summer, at the earliest, possibly later in the year.

Aled: Okay, I don’t want to put you on the spot here.

Shannon: No, I wish I had a more specific answer. We’re all working day in and day out. Our whole team at Victoria, you’ve talked to Darin. Everybody is so passionate about this, and so committed, and working so hard.

A lot will depend on the technology and when the technology’s ready. Then there will be a period of making sure that we’re not throwing the door wide open and saying, ”Come one, come all and use this CRT”. We’re going to make sure that it works in a staged, careful way, because we do want to ensure that we have the public’s trust and that it’s a credible way to resolve disputes.

Aled: I think I saw a presentation that you delivered. Some slides of a presentation you delivered and you had some wireframes, some sketches of what the different levels looked like. It looked really good, actually. Really, sort of simple, easy to digest, plain, clean. Yeah, it looks good.

Shannon: Thanks for the feedback. Those are sort of conceptual designs but we are aiming for it to be like that. To be responsive, easy to use, very plain language. So that’s our aim. I’m glad that is coming across.

Aled: You talked about resourcing it and getting tribunal members in. I’m curious, what does it mean for mediators and ADR professionals? What are the implications? How many facilitators do you imagine getting started with? As it gets full to capacity, how will you operate? Any thoughts on that?

Shannon: The facilitator role is an interesting role because the person’s also a case manager. They’ll have to manage a reasonably high volume of cases but also have really excellent dispute resolution skills. It’ll take a particular skill set and a particular person to do that work. But, there is a real opportunity for mediators to do that work because they have that dispute resolution skill already, and that’s obviously going to be valuable.

We’re trying to be as flexible as possible with our workforce. Largely our workforce will work remotely. Right now, I’m in the CRT Headquarters, which also happens to be my home office. We’re a very efficient tribunal so far, with government resources.

Similarly, we want to draw in people who may be semi-retired, who might be stay-at-home parents, who might have other work that they do and might want to do a little bit of this as well. We’re really flexible about having part-time, full-time, even possibly, some contracted services in this area.

In BC, there are courses now that are being designed for mediators to develop ODR skills and the uptake on that has been really extensive. So, I think there is an opportunity here but it will require a flexible view of what mediation means. The act is really broad, it lets facilitators undertake what’s really properly characterised as a MEDAR model, with the consent of the parties.

So with the consent of the parties, the facilitator can make a recommendation or take an evaluative approach to a dispute. Even with the consent of the parties, the facilitator could decide the dispute. All of those things are sometimes controversial in the mediation community but, if that’s something that a mediator is comfortable doing, then this might be a good job opportunity for them. It’s certainly very, very flexible.

Now, in terms of the broader context of mediation this approach, if it’s successful, will likely be rolled out to other tribunals, over the coming years. In BC, alone, there’s 27 to 29 of those tribunals. On one hand, I think it will really increase the amount of work for people with dispute resolution skills because that will be embedded in the process, in a way that it’s not right now. On the other hand, it will require a much higher degree of flexibility, in terms of what approaches people take to dispute resolution.

Aled: It is interesting how, as you know, there’s a big tension in mediation between the evaluative, and facilitative, and everything else in between, as to what’s the right way to do it.

Again, my mind has changed over the years that I’ve been practicing as a mediator. I’m a lot more open minded these days, and the reason why I’m more open minded is, I think, we can get, a little bit – I’m just trying to think of a polite way of putting it – we can get our heads stuck up certain places where . . . Ultimately, if we put the responsibility or the accountability, for the decision making down to the parties and we empower those to say, “Well, here are the options. You could come up with the outcome. I can make some recommendations. I could even decide it for you. What would you like to do?”

Rather than decide ourselves, as a profession or a field, what we think is good for people. That people make their own minds up, what they think is good for them. Just give them the information, help them make their own mind up.

Shannon: Yeah, I think there may be some parallels there between the mediation community, writ large, and parts of the justice system, and the traditional legal community. What we were talking about before, in terms of paternalism, we need to be careful we’re not importing that into the mediation field, right? That we’re not telling people what they want or what’s best for them, barring things like duress, or undue influence, or where there’s a clear imbalance of power.

If you’re talking about competent adults who are able to make decisions for themselves. If they’re properly informed of all of the alternatives, really, is the role of the mediator to say, ”Well, I know you just want an outcome right now, or a decision, but I’m going to lead you down this process that’s going to maybe cost you more money and take you more time”?

I know there are arguments on both sides of that. I’m not meaning to presuppose one up more than another but I think it is something to be mindful of, in any profession. Are you serving people’s best interests or we serving an ideology that may not be serving those best interests anymore? We need to watch for that, and I say that as a lawyer because I think, the legal community, in particular, needs to watch for that. We have our own sacred cows and some of those deserve closer examination.

Aled: Yeah, absolutely. That’s a topic for another discussion. Look, I’m mindful of time and you’ve been really generous so far. I just want to know, really, what advice you’d give someone in England and Wales, thinking of setting up something similar for disputes of small claims nature or particular disputes.

If we wanted to come up with an ODR platform that could provide that access to justice that could really help people, empower them to make choices, remove that sort of difficulty, all the barriers, and all the pressures, but also, all the sense of intimidation. What advice would you offer?

Shannon: I think it’s a tricky balance between having to lead change and especially, as the role is for government, I think, in this area, to lead justice reform. But also make sure that you’re not leaving people too far behind.

The change-management part of it, I think, is so important, it’s so key because you want to develop a collective sense of what the problem is and why you’re trying to address it. Then you can move into the solution, whatever form that may take. But definitely talking to different people.

Talking to groups who are currently marginalized by the justice system, talking to legal actors, but not only talking to legal actors. I think, often, when we talk about justice reform, we maybe consults lawyers, we consult judges, and that’s really important. But we forget, sometimes, to consult, people who have engaged with the system in the past. People who have specific barriers to engaging in that system.

If we’re trying to reform the justice system, you need to go to the people who are most impacted by it. That would be my suggestion. Try to strike that careful balance between bringing people along, holding them by the hand, reassuring them that you’re not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. But trying to inspire them with the vision of how things could be.

I think, particularly in the legal community, there can be a concern if government is trying to change the process that they’re, somehow trying to undermine the process and it’s important to explain, I think, that . . . . That know, especially in the CRT’s example, principles like the rule of law or procedural fairness, those are so foundational to everything that we do. That has been the collective product of hundreds of years of the common law and our attachment to precedent.

But our attachment to precedent, as lawyers, can become really unhealthy when it stops us from considering changes to process. When I talk to groups of lawyers, I try to really get them to separate in their minds, for a moment, the principles, that are so foundational to our justice system, from the process that gives it back to them.

If we could be a little bit more open minded about the process, and we can reassure people that we still care about the principles. Then, I think, there’s an opportunity to say, ”If we were to just start from scratch now, how would we build these structures that give effect to these principles? Would it be a brick and mortar building all the time? Or would it look a little bit different?”.

You have to work with the courts to do that, you have to work with lawyers, but it’s really important to really go to the public and not be paternalistic and learn from their experience with the justice system.

It’s a rather longwinded answer but it’s a complicated problem.

Aled: There’s some very, very useful advice there. Look Shannon, I really appreciate your time. I know you’ve got a busy day ahead of you. If people want to find out more about the CRT, what’s the best way of doing that?

Shannon: Log on to our website, civilresolutionbc.ca. There’s a way to contact me there, too, if you have any questions, and a way to get more information about the tribunal, and we have great guest posts from people like Darin. We have a guest post from a self-represented litigant, from a mediator. So it’s a good place just to get different views on this process, from a number of quarters.

Aled: Wonderful. Listen, I wish you all the very best with the launch. I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for it. Thanks, once again, for doing the interview.

Shannon: Thanks so much for having me, I really appreciate it.

Aled: Thanks Shannon.

About the mediator

Shannon Salter Profile Pic

Shannon Salter is the Chair of the Civil Resolution Tribunal and has a longstanding commitment to access to justice, particularly in the context of administrative tribunals. An active provider of pro bono legal advice and representation through her career, Shannon is also adjunct professor of administrative law at the UBC Faculty of Law, a commissioner of the Financial Institutions Commission and vice president of the British Columbia Council ... View Mediator