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Posts Tagged "reform"

13Sep

Ian Mulgrew: Utah legal reform an example for B.C.

by admin

The Law Society of B.C. could do well to look to Utah for advice on how to address the province’s access-to-justice crisis caused by legal services that are too pricey and the inequity that perpetuates.

The state has embarked on an ambitious, radical restructuring of its legal regulatory system to provide more affordable services and a regulator that protects the public rather than lawyers.

The promising initiative was the product of a recent blue-ribbon working-group report — Narrowing the Access-to-Justice Gap by Re-imagining Regulation — that maintained the delivery of legal services must be dramatically changed “to harness the power of entrepreneurship, capital, and machine learning in the legal arena.”

Gillian Hadfield, the Toronto-based legal guru, was part of the high-powered committee that made the ground-breaking recommendations, considered by those in the field as perhaps the most significant action to address the access gap in years.

The top-flight academic, who was in Vancouver proselytizing earlier this year, has long argued it’s time to end the monopoly enjoyed by lawyers and dismantle regulatory barriers to provide legal help that is affordable and accessible.

The Utah Supreme Court is putting those ideas into practice — shifting the paradigm from a system regulating for lawyers to one regulating to increase access to and affordability of legal services.

Utah has established state-wide pro bono efforts, made forms and filings more easily accessible online, established Licensed Paralegal Practitioners, and piloted an online dispute resolution model for small claims.

B.C. has done the same — although it is dragging its heels on giving paralegals any real scope — and each of these initiatives takes a step toward narrowing the access-to-justice gap.

Still, they have been not anywhere near enough.

Expanding pro bono, improving legal aid and making minor regulatory reforms have been inadequate while technological disruption has exacerbated and widened the gap.

Millions experience problems with domestic violence, veterans’ benefits, disability access, housing conditions, health care, debt collection, and other civil justice issues cannot afford legal services and are not eligible for assistance from the civil legal aid system.

In the 71-page report, the experts proposed a two-tracked remedy — loosen restrictions on how legal firms are financed so lawyers can compete and innovate but also provide room for people other than lawyers to provide legal services.

That means, for instance, getting rid of bans on lawyers fee-sharing with non-lawyers (say accountants) or allowing non-lawyers to own or invest in law firms.

At the moment, mixed business models are prohibited in most jurisdictions hindering lawyers from partnering with entrepreneurs.

Within days of receiving the report at the end of last month, the Utah Supreme Court — which has constitutional responsibility for the administration of justice — unanimously adopted its recommendations.

Other states, such as Arizona, California and Illinois are mulling similar proposals. California in July published proposals to allow fee-sharing, non-lawyer ownership and the greater use of non-lawyers.

Utah, however, is blazing the trail.

Since the turn of the century, the U.K. and North America have been dealing with sadly similar crises in their legal systems — an access-to-justice gap that threatens civil society.

All of the data confirm the legal system isn’t meeting the needs of the middle-class and poor.

The courts are clogged with confused litigants who can’t afford a lawyer and have no access to any other source of legal services because of the regulated monopoly the legal profession enjoys.

In 2007, the U.K. redesigned its regulatory apparatus to increase legal competition in the marketplace, which was already far more liberal than here.

It did not have prohibitions against the unauthorized practice of law and the legal monopoly was restricted to a half-dozen services; advertising restrictions and referral fees were lifted years ago; wills, representation at tribunals and the provision of other low-level legal services were not regulated.

The U.K. was focused on increasing competition, in North America the paramount concern is access to justice.

Medicine has become a team sport: doctors, nurses, radiologic technologists, pharmacists all play. The law should be similar.

In Utah, the new system will be driven by data, monitoring, assessment and analysis “to ensure consumers access to a well-developed, high-quality, innovative, and competitive market for legal sevices.”

The first phase will see the formation of a task force to propose rule changes, establish a “Phase 1 regulator” to oversee a “sandbox” of non-traditional legal services and prepare a final report for the structure of the “Phase 2 regulator.”

In the sandbox, lawyers, law firms and proposed businesses will work with the regulator to pilot new services or new ways of working that might break current rules but appear to be safe.

These trial-and-error experiments with the baby-step process to remove regulatory restrictions and ease the historic persistent inhibition on innovation, hopefully, will lead to the right way to regulate new services.

The state hopes that phase 2 will see “some form of an independent, non-profit regulator with delegated regulatory authority over some or all legal services.”

It will be independent of lawyers but answerable to the Supreme Court.

That will be a real transformation — a regulatory system designed to not maintain the status quo but to provide affordable legal services while protecting the public from unacceptable risk and harm.

Seems like a no-brainer.

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23Nov

Deadline extended for B.C. referendum on electoral reform

by admin

Elections BC has extended the voting period for the referendum on electoral reform by one week.

It will now accept completed voting packages until 4:30 p.m. on Dec.  7.

 “We have worked closely with Canada Post to understand the full impact of rotating strikes on the referendum process,” said Chief Electoral Officer Anton Boegman. “Rotating strikes have impacted accessibility. As a result, we have extended the deadline to ensure that voters are not prevented from participating through no fault of their own.”

The deadline to request a voting package has not changed and voters must request a package by midnight Friday, Nov. 23.

The package can be returned by mail or in person at a Referendum Service Office or Service BC Centre.

As of Friday morning, roughly 980,000 packages, which reflects 30 per cent eligible voters, have been returned to Elections BC. The numbers do not include the packages Canada Post received but have not been transferred yet.

Voters are being asked to choose whether the province should adopt a proportional representation model, or stick with first-past-the-post. Not sure what the options are? Here’s a quick explainer.


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16Nov

Vote No campaign calls to extend election reform vote due to low voter turnout

by admin

The deadline for the referendum on electoral reform is in two weeks and, as the debate between first-past-the-post and proportional representation rages, some are calling for an extension.

The Vote No campaign has raised concerns about the referendum, saying an extension is needed because of the potential for low voter turnout and mail delivery disruption from the Canada Post strike.

“There are a lot of reasons for Elections B.C. to take action,” said Bill Tieleman, president of the No B.C. Proportional Representation Society.

His main concern is that, without a deadline extension, there simply won’t be enough votes on the issue.

As of Friday, less than 20 per cent of the ballots had been received by Election B.C. They are currently due on Nov. 30.

Less than 20 per cent of ballots have been received by Elections B.C. so far 9:50

“The volume of ballots to come anywhere close to 50 per cent would have to be massive, and there’s just no indication that is what is going on,” he told Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC’s The Early Edition.

The high point of voter turnout is currently about 16 per cent in some ridings, Tieleman said, but that falls to as low as one-and-half per cent in others.

“We could have an extremely small fraction of people deciding what is really fundamental in our democracy — how we elect our representatives,” he said.

Whether B.C. voters cast ballots in the future for individuals, political parties or a mix will be determined in November’s mail-in referendum. (CBC)

Voter turnout

Previous referendums in B.C., like those on the electoral system in 2005 and 2009 or on the harmonized sale tax in 2011, all had a voter turnout of more than 50 per cent.

However, There is no minimum voter participation threshold for any referendum.

“As it is with every election, it’s the voters who turn out who get to decide,” said Bowinn Ma, an NDP MLA for North Vancouver-Lonsdale.

She’s an advocate for proportional representation in the hopes that it will increase voter turnout.  

“We’ve had abysmal voter turnout in elections in general which is why I’m so excited about proportional representation,” Ma said.  

“Generally, when we’re talking about voter response, it ultimately comes down to whether a  voter feels like the vote is important to them.”

Lack of engagement

Lack of voter engagement is at the heart of the matter, according to University of the Fraser Valley political science professor Hamish Telford.

“It doesn’t seem to me like there’s an overwhelming engagement on this issue,” Telford told Michelle Eliot, host of B.C. Today.

“That’s, I think, indicative of the very low return rate of the ballots so far … It may be the case that some people are either still deliberating or may be sitting on their ballots because of the postal worker issue.”

Elections B.C. says it is monitoring the Canada Post situation and, if there are significant delays or impacts on accessibility, extending the voting period is a possibility.

University of the Fraser Valley political science professor Hamish Telford on the proportional referendum and extending the deadline. Jake Fry, co-founder, Small Housing BC, and Rebecca Chaster, community planner at the City of Coquitlam, on tiny homes. 50:58

With files from The Early Edition and B.C. Today.


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