Notaries’ Role in Access to Justice in BC

On June 12, 2019, the BC Notary Foundation joined more than 50 other justice system organizations in signing onto the “Access to Justice Triple Aim.”

In doing so, The Notary Foundation confirmed its commitment to being part of the solution to the access to justice problems in this province.

What is the Triple Aim? It is one aspirational goal with three interrelated elements:

  • Improving access to justice at a population level;
  • Improving the experience of the users (people who have legal problems); and
  • Improving costs—not just spending money to better effect in the justice system but also reducing costs in other sectors by improving access to justice.

The Triple Aim was adapted from the health sector to the justice sector by Access to Justice BC, a coalition of people and organizations within and outside the justice system working together to promote concrete change. I am Chair of Access to Justice BC and have occasionally blogged about its activities on the group’s website.

Access to Justice BC started as a response to the National Action Committee on Family and Civil Justice Report, A Roadmap for Change. That report summarized some of the difficult facts we’ve known for many years: Too many ordinary Canadians struggle with their interactions with the justice system and, even more disturbing, too many don’t turn to the justice system in the first place with their legal problems.

And by justice system, I mean to include not just the Courts, but all services, institutions, and organizations that support people to get the skills, knowledge, resources, and services they need to manage legal problems. It most certainly includes BC Notaries.

There are various complex reasons why people have difficulty accessing the family and civil justice system. Legal aid funds, for example, are reserved largely for use in criminal matters.

Even where legal aid is available for family and civil cases, most people do not meet the income requirements. To qualify, a one-person household must make $18,960 or less per year; a four-person family must make $41,640 or less per year. Most people make too much money to qualify for legal aid. Yet most people do not make enough money to afford to hire a private lawyer at $200 to $450 per hour.

What do people do? In some cases they decide to represent themselves in Court. At the Court of Appeal, at least 40 percent of the litigants in family law appeals are self-represented. In other cases they may walk away from their legal problems, abandoning legal rights. Those most affected are often the most vulnerable members of our society, in particular Indigenous people.

As Chief Justice of BC, I am deeply troubled by this situation. 

The rule of law demands that all of us must be held to the same legal standards. While the rule of law remains strong in Canada, it is threatened by ordinary people’s inability to access the justice system. We are failing if people can’t afford to enforce their rights or if obtaining justice means financial ruin.

BC Notaries’ work is to assist people with legal problems. [See pages 23 or 42.] It is a profession with a tradition of service to the public and preservation of the rule of law. Notaries are an integral part of our economy’s fabric and play an important role delivering services, often at rates the average person is more likely to be able to afford.

Therefore, it is no surprise that Notaries have a keen interest in access to justice issues, exemplified by Wayne Braid, Executive Officer of The Notary Foundation, in his participation with Access to Justice BC from its inception. I commend Wayne’s leadership on access to justice issues, too many to enumerate here. 

On a side note, I wish him all the best in his well-deserved retirement. I have been proud to work alongside Wayne and the various other stakeholders to try to gain traction on access to justice in our province.

Which brings me back to the Triple Aim and a challenge to all the readers of The Scrivener: How do you see yourself and your organization contributing to access to justice?

It is hoped that the Triple Aim can provide some guidance on how to make progress, particularly by improving the experience of “the user.” Looking at the justice system from the user’s perspective can transform the way you do business. There may be technology to better deploy, collaborations to pursue, or innovations to adopt in how services are delivered.

If being part of the solution calls to you, I encourage you to take a look at Access to Justice BC’s Framework for Action, Measurement Framework, and User Guide for ideas on how you can make a difference.

Signing on to the Triple Aim was an important step signifying commitment to a common goal of improving access to justice in BC and to action to pursue that goal. Now is the time to follow that commitment with concrete and meaningful change.


The Honourable Robert Bauman is Chief Justice of British Columbia.

Posted in Justice