Canadian Courts’ communications initiatives receive international attention

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Courts in Canada are working with the Office of the Commissioner of Federal Judicial Affairs (FJA) and the National Judicial Institute (NJI) to support judicial reform in Ukraine. Early in October, the BC Provincial Court hosted a delegation of Ukrainian judges and other justice system personnel interested in court communications. Later in the month the Court’s Digital Communications Coordinator, Judge Ann Rounthwaite (retired), travelled to Ukraine to speak about her work at the invitation of the FJA.

Ukraine was part of the USSR until 1991. Since then, as an independent nation, it has undergone upheavals including the “Orange Revolution” in 2004 and the “Revolution of Dignity” in 2013/14. The Canadian projects aim to promote the Rule of Law, democratic development and good governance in Ukraine by supporting development of a competent and independent judiciary and effective and transparent courts. Canadian judges, including BC’s Chief Justice Robert Bauman, have worked with the NJI on projects to assist with judicial education and the leadership role played by Chief Justices in strengthening judicial independence.

The FJA has previously undertaken projects in Ukraine focused on court administration, judicial independence and accountability. Its current project targets topics including access to justice and transparency in the justice system.

As part of that initiative, three Ukrainian Chief Judges and representatives of the Judiciary of Ukraine Press Centre, Legal Aid and patrol police visited Calgary and Vancouver last month with interpreters and FJA staff to learn how Alberta and British Columbia courts communicate with the public.

Organized by the Honourable Bruce Cohen, Superior Courts Communications Officer (“Superior Courts” refers to BC’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeal), and Ann Rounthwaite, the Vancouver portion of their visit included:

  • a welcome from BC Chief Justice Robert Bauman
  • a session with BC Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes and Justice Nathan Smith, Chair of that Court’s Public Affairs Committee
  • a session with the Provincial Court
  • a presentation about the work of the Justice Education Society (by Dave Nolette, Justice Education Society’s BC and Digital Programs Director)
  • a panel of journalists at the University of British Columbia Faculty of Journalism (chaired by Daniel Getz, Executive Producer of Network News at CBC News, with Eve St. Laurent, Legal Counsel at CBC/Radio-Canada, Rumina Daya, Global News, and Laura Lynch, CBC News)

In the session with the Provincial Court, Chief Judge Gillespie, Ann Rounthwaite and Caroline Berkey, the Court’s Senior Legal Officer, discussed how the Court communicates with lawyers, litigants, public legal information organizations, the media and the public using its active website, eNews articles, social media, visually attractive plain language publications, and judges’ speaking to students and other groups. The visitors were particularly interested in the Court’s annual reports with their detailed statistics and court performance metrics and its Twitter account.

At the end of October, Ann Rounthwaite joined Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Mary Moreau on an FJA mission to Ukraine. She spoke about the Provincial Court’s approach to communications at the first National Forum for Court Press Secretaries, held in Chernihiv Oblast, and conducted a workshop titled by FJA “A virtual trip to Canada’s most open court” for a variety of justice system professionals in Odessa.

"Working with Ukrainian judges and others in their justice system has been very rewarding,” said Ann Rounthwaite. “It caused me to reflect on how the BC Provincial Court’s approach to communications has developed over the last two decades and to identify where we can make further improvements. I have tremendous respect for the Ukrainians I met who are committed to developing effective, open courts and are coping with the challenges of continued cultural change in a country at war, with determination and good spirit.”