Amici Curiae: Virtual Courts, Opposition to Manitoba’s Bill 18, and a National Pro Bono Duty Counsel Program

Justice – Just a Click Away?

Litigating less serious small claims disputes may not require filling out lengthy paperwork or taking time off work to attend a court hearing anymore.

The British Columbia Ministry of Justice recently released part two of their White Paper on Justice Reform. They are recommending a simplified and user-friendly court process called the Civil Resolution Tribunal that reflects the realities of our hyper-connected world:

“Canada’s first ‘online’ tribunal, the Civil Resolution Tribunal, will meet citizen needs by making the majority of dispute resolution services available online or by email, telephone, and video. In-person meetings and hearings will also be possible, but will be used only when necessary. These services represent an attempt to modernize the justice system through a focus on meeting citizen needs, user satisfaction, and continuous improvement through innovation.”

For the Ministry of Justice to embrace technology and the internet as a way to improve dispute resolution services is a promising step. It also indicates an awareness that the justice system needs to be modernized to offer innovative services to the public.

The Ministry of Justice plans to appoint a Civil Resolution Tribunal chair and invests in the technology to launch the new service by March 31, 2014.

Anti-bullying Bill 18 Faces Opposition in Manitoba

The Manitoba legislature’s Bill 18 has been proposed to amend the provincial Public Schools Act to include definitions of bullying and the establishment of policies to encourage respect for diversity in schools and to combat cyberbullying. Even though it has not yet reached first reading in the legislature it is facing opposition from the community.

Religious schools allege that Bill 18 infringes on religious freedoms because it forces schools to accommodate students who want to organize anti-bullying groups that may not align with the beliefs of the institution – such as gay-straight alliances.

Section 41(1.8) of the Bill would require that all schools “must accommodate pupils” who promote the “awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.”

This section conflicts with the Catholic teaching that homosexuality is wrong and this could arguably qualify as “bullying” under the Bill.

The Manitoba legislature will debate the merits of the Bill this spring.

Federal Court Chief Justice Recommends a National Pro Bono Duty Counsel Program

A quarter. That is the estimated number of litigants in Federal Court who do not have a lawyer. But Chief Justice Paul Crampton has proposed a solution: implement a national pro bono duty counsel program for lawyers, recent graduates, and law students to provide greater access to justice.

The program would allow students to obtain practical experience in the courtroom, and could also be used to fulfil licensing requirements. Crampton refers to the plan as a “quintuple win-win” that would provide benefits to the court, unrepresented litigants, the Crown, students, and law firms.

While still in the very early stages of planning, the idea has so far received positive responses from the Law Society of Upper Canada and Ontario law schools.

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