What’s new in the BC Provincial Court’s digital communications

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The Provincial Court of BC has been a leader among Canadian courts in its enthusiastic use of digital communications to engage with the public. It offers an active website, featuring bi-weekly “eNews” articles, and uses social media with a refreshing, conversational tone to interact with followers.

The 2017 analytics reports are now in. They show huge gains in eNews readership, continuing growth in Twitter followers, and website traffic holding steady. The last year also saw significant improvements and additions to the voluminous information on the Court’s website. This eNews highlights what’s new in the Provincial Court’s digital communications.

“With over 230,000 visitors each year, www.ProvincialCourt.bc.ca is one of the most popular legal information websites in B.C.” said Dave Nolette, Digital Program Director at Justice Education Society. Visitors can learn about the type of cases handled by the court, discover court locations and contact information, search past judgments, and get the latest news about the court. “It’s a great site with a broad range of information for the public, the legal community and the media.”

The Court’s website is constantly being updated to make its language plainer and its contents ever-more useful and user-friendly. In the past year, the Court has:

• added an online application system for judicial appointments – the first such system in Canada
• added a colourful Media Guide to its streamlined Media page – not just for media, the Guide provides a readable overview of the Court and its work, along with interesting facts about the Court
• expanded the detailed lists of court sitting hours and days in each courthouse and added annual calendars showing days when courts are closed
• added information and a poster on the Court’s Support Person Guidelines – another Canadian first
• added comprehensive information about the June 2017 changes in BC’s Small Claims law – the only detailed information available at the time the law changed
• posted daily announcements about court closures due to wildfires last summer
• improved its Civil, Criminal and Family Cases pages with more detailed information, new resources, and illustrative flowcharts
• added Common Questions – answers to the questions most often received by the Office of the Chief Judge

The Court’s website analytics for 2017 show:

941,090 page views
412,791 sessions
230,724 users

The Court published eNews on its website weekly until October 2017 and bi-weekly thereafter. The articles contain news about Court innovation, judicial officers’ work and activities, BC justice system resources, and explanations of Court procedures.

The five most popular articles last year were:
#1 Important changes to Small Claims Court 20/03/2017
#2 BC Provincial Court adopts Support Guidelines 11/04/2017
#3 Canada's 1st online application system for judicial appointments 05/09/2017
#4 Mother and daughter judges 07/02/2017
#5 Judge's appointment makes news around the world 24/01/2017

eNews earned 35,928 page views in 2017 – an increase of 60.43% over 2016 – and a healthy readership for a Canadian trial court.

The Court’s Twitter followers continued to increase steadily – 2017 saw a 48% increase to 1191. Not large in the Twitter universe, but significant for a provincial trial court.

In April 2017 the Court held its second live Twitter Town Hall, #AskChiefJudge, with Chief Judge Crabtree issuing 138 responses to 176 tweets (77 questions and 69 comments). The event prompted David Biilinsky, a legal tech writer and practice management consultant, to write:

"@BCProvCourt is a very active Twitter handle and tweets regularly on topics related to the courts, law and related developments. … This is one of the most open and transparent courts in the world and it is setting an example of how a traditional institution does not have to be locked into a traditional mindset. Of course this all comes from leadership at the top and staff that support an innovative approach to courts, dispute resolution and the role of courts in society."

SLAW, Canada's Online Legal Magazine, 2017/03/29

Chief Judge Thomas Crabtree said,

“Our Twitter Town Hall wasn’t just a one-off event intended to make a splash. It was part of the Court’s ongoing communication initiatives dedicated to two-way engagement with the public.
Through our website and eNews we try to offer members of the public, the media, and legal professionals the information they need to make the best use of the Court. But it’s just as important that we listen to the questions and comments of British Columbians about their courts and justice system. Judges’ public speaking engagements in their communities permit this two-way communication, but Twitter provides an opportunity to engage with more people in a different way and with people who may not be able to attend a class or meeting due to geographic or other barriers.”

Other courts have taken notice of the BC Provincial Court’s initiatives. In 2017 Canadian administrative tribunals and courts at all levels consulted the Court’s Digital Communications Co-ordinator, Judge Ann Rounthwaite (retired), and the Chief Judge about their use of social media and eNews bulletins. Tweeting that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, the Nova Scotia Courts announced a Law Day Twitter Town Hall, #AskaNSJudge, last spring.

The Provincial Court of BC sees its online communications as part of a continuum of interaction with the public. From a judge speaking to a community group, spending lunch hour with students on a courthouse visit, or sharing perspectives in an eNews article, to the Chief Judge hosting a Twitter Town Hall, the Court is committed to transparency and meaningful engagement with the public.