Putting the Public First – Part 4

In the first three parts of this series I described the thoughts I contributed to the Justice Design Project on how to put the public first in justice system reform.  This post attempts to build on that very important theme.

I follow Richard Zorza‘s Access to Justice Blog.  Richard is one of my justice heroes and generously shares his comments, analysis and creative ideas in a variety of different ways.  His contributions are significant and not limited to the justice sphere. His most recent endeavour is his “Patient Partnering Blog” arising from his experience with marrow cancer and his resulting involvement in the “patient voice movement” in health care.  He explains:

What I mean by that is that the process includes the patient as a full partner, with our own skill and expertise, as well as direct reportable knowledge. The patient provides information about what they are feeling medically and in terms of how they are being treated, in all senses of the word. They make suggestions about how to improve not only their situation, but that of others. They keep their eyes open and try to see patterns in fellow patients and ask if those may generally be true, or worth researching. They talk to other patients and help build a community that gives feedback. Their input includes everything from their own situation to the overall health care system. In other words, they are partners, not just the beneficiaries of being at the center of care.

There are pretty obvious implications for justice system design.  In my view, “patient” does not equate just to “litigant” but, rather, to anyone who encounters the “justice/legal system” whether or not they end up in court (although the litigant group is easier to identify).  My previous posts urged involving these “justice participants” in the justice design process right from the outset to increase empathy and understanding (currently a deficit in our reform efforts) and then to continue to involve them throughout the analysis, design and prototyping steps.  As Richard points out, the articulated experience of justice participants is truly eye-opening and will fundamentally shape any potential solutions, they have “been there, done that” in a way that service providers never will, and they can see patterns that are not obvious to insiders.

Richard goes one step further to suggest that they should be partners and not just participants.  Consulting with them is not enough – they need to be part of the entire process.

How to do that?  That is definitely the most challenging question.  The healthcare sector has made a good start on this with the “patient voice movement” and the focus on “patient-centred care”.  This is a developing approach but a very positive innovation.  How can justice develop a similar movement?  Some humble suggestions:

  • Professor Julie Macfarlane’s National Self-Represented Litigants project was a good start.  Many self-represented litigants found their voice during and as a result of that project and continue to make a significant impact in A2J efforts across the country. This should be encouraged.
  • At the local level, we can encourage justice participants to begin by forming small groups to share their experiences with each other.
  • We can also encourage courts and other justice institutions to support gatherings of justice participants where they can articulate their experiences and share them with A2J groups.
  • Members of these groups can then become directly involved in A2J efforts in the province.

Thank you for your continuing inspiration Richard!

Kari D. Boyle

Coordinator, BC Family Justice Innovation Lab