Skip to content

Virtual Lakehead forum to discuss impact of COVID-19 on courts

'Technology is not a panacea, a cure-all for our access to justice woes, though it might have offered temporary pain relief for our COVID-related ones,' says lawyer
Shannon Salter headshot - high res - web
Supplied photo of Shannon Salter

NEWS RELEASE
LAKEHEAD UNIVERSITY
*************************
Shannon Salter will give a public presentation through Zoom on Tuesday, Jan. 26 at 7 p.m., part of the Harold G. Fox Lecture Series hosted by Lakehead University.

Salter, Civil Resolution Tribunal Chair and adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia’s Allard School of Law, will discuss the way COVID-19 forced courts around the world to move online and what this could mean for the justice system.

She will describe the growing consensus that it’s time to digitally transform the justice system and if this will actually increase access to justice.

The Civil Resolution Tribunal is Canada’s first online tribunal resolving small claims, condominium disputes, and motor vehicle accident disputes.

“As a mainly online tribunal, the CRT stayed open and operating normally last year,” Salter said.

“Over its short history, the CRT’s jurisdiction has expanded to include condominium law, small claims, motor vehicle injury, and co-operative and societal disputes. From the beginning, the tribunal has been extensively co-designed with community legal advocates and their clients," said Salter.

“This has led the CRT to focus on collaborative dispute resolution, with adjudication as a valued last resort. While the CRT offers mail, telephone, and (pre-pandemic) in-person services, over 99 percent of the approximately 20,000 disputes we’ve handled involved online tools.”

The CRT is paperless. Most of its nearly 100 staff and tribunal members have always worked from home. Dispute resolution services, from applications, negotiation and mediation processes, uploading evidence, and receiving decisions and orders, are all online.

“Aside from relocating some frontline staff to remote work, and supporting colleagues with sudden caregiving and other responsibilities, we didn’t have to adapt,” she said.

“Instead, we focused on the health, mobility, and economic impact of the pandemic on CRT users. We helped by waiving fees in cases of financial hardship, pressing pause on default orders, and extending deadlines through email requests.”

Before the pandemic, community legal advocates helped the CRT accommodate the needs of people with health, mobility, economic and other access barriers.

“Now, many more of us are also experiencing these challenges, and the CRT has scaled to meet this increased human need. It helped that we offered online tools.

“But we stayed open because of human-centred design and the outcomes it brought; free, plain language legal information and tools through the Solution Explorer, simple fee waivers, free interpretation services, staff well-trained in mental health issues, cultural competency and customer service. Most importantly, a culture of collaboration, inclusivity, and respect,” she said.

Salter doesn’t believe that technology can solve all problems related to accessing the justice system – it could even add more barriers to access.

“It’s important to remember that technology is not a panacea, a cure-all for our access to justice woes, though it might have offered temporary pain relief for our COVID-related ones. Adding a technology interface to existing, inaccessible processes is not transformative, and can add further barriers.

“Building a flexible, resilient, and responsive justice system requires something that’s both much harder and much easier than legal technology. It requires fundamental system and culture change, co-designed and tested with those who need our public justice system the most,” she said.

Please click here to register.

Biography: Shannon Salter, BA, LLB, LLM

Shannon Salter is the Chair of the Civil Resolution Tribunal, Canada’s first online tribunal resolving small claims, condominium disputes, and motor vehicle accident disputes. She is also an adjunct professor at the UBC Allard School of Law, teaching administrative law and legal ethics and professional regulation. She earned her BA and LLB from UBC, and her LLM from the University of Toronto.

Salter was a BC Supreme Court judicial law clerk before practicing civil litigation at a large Vancouver firm. She has served as a vice chair of the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal, vice president of the BC Council of Administrative Tribunals, and on the College of Registered Nurses of BC.

She is currently a director of the BC Financial Services Authority, a Law Society of British Columbia disciplinary hearing panel member, board member of the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII), and a director of Lexum.

Salter is a co-author of the BC Administrative Decision Maker’s Manual, as well as a number of legal journal articles. In 2017, she was named one of the 25 Top Most Influential Lawyers in Canada, and was previously recognized as one of Canada’s New Law Pioneers by the Canadian Bar Association and an Access to Justice All-Star by the National Self-Represented Litigants Project (NSLAP).

She received the Adam Albright award for outstanding teaching by an adjunct professor in 2016. Salter is also a fellow of the National Centre for Technology and Dispute Resolution at the University of Massachusetts and a visiting professor at the Sir Zelman Cowan Centre in Victoria University in Melbourne. She is a frequent speaker at international conferences on online dispute resolution, administrative law, legal education, and the future of law and technology.

*************************