A First for BC Provincial Court

Posted to: 

The Provincial Court of BC made history last week as the first court in Canada to hold a Twitter Town Hall. Lauded by participants and described as “an obvious success” by Vancouver Sun columnist Ian Mulgrew, the event even earned the Court the coveted social media status of ‘trending’ in Vancouver.

People were invited to tweet questions to the Court’s Chief Judge Thomas Crabtree using the hashtag #AskChiefJudge during a two-hour period on BC Law Day, April 14th. They did, and he tweeted responses on a wide range of topics including mandatory mediation, First Nations Court, trial scheduling reform, and what book he was reading. (Answer: the CLE Annual Review of Law & Practice!)

Dozens of questions from people with legal problems, lawyers, law students, and justice system groups received thoughtful answers and links to information and helpful resources. But there were lighter moments - an exchange of song lyrics and even a request for a selfie, which the Chief Judge provided. See excerpts from the Twitter conversation.

The communications team of the Canadian Bar Association BC Branch promoted the event as part of BC Law Week. They, and the BC Law Society, Trial Lawyers Association, Courthouse Libraries BC, Clicklaw, Justice Education Society, Legal Services Society, Mediate BC, Access Pro Bono, Access to Justice BC, and Nidus joined the conversation, adding helpful information. The support of these groups, lawyers, and others active on Twitter for the Town Hall was integral to its success and the Court thanks everyone who participated.

Chief Judge Crabtree received praise for his performance and his openness. Venturing into the wild and woolly world of social media was a demonstration of his confidence in the public and in the team led by retired judge Ann Rounthwaite, the Court’s Digital Communications Co-ordinator, and composed of Associate Chief Judges Gurmail Gill and Nancy Phillips, Judge Eugene Jamieson, Legal Officer Karen Leung, Administrative Assistant Alicia Perez and Executive Coordinator Kaleigh Johnson.

Credit: Netlytic visualization of @BCProvCourt #AskChiefJudge by Colin LaChance
Each line is a tweet linking 2 people through an action on Twitter
(tweets, retweets, mentions, likes)

The Twitter Town Hall demonstrated the public’s desire for more open and transparent pubic institutions and for knowledge to demystify our courts and justice system. Participants’ glowing comments included:

Thank you so much for this Twitter Townhall and for being open to questions. It means a lot.

How fantastic to get all of this info in 1 place thanks to this town hall.

Kudos to @BCProvCourt for dreaming up & executing such a great initiative-so many great questions & relevant discussion!

Legal technology expert David Bilinsky commented in SLAW, “Canada’s online legal magazine”:

“There are several remarkable features about this event. One is the openness that it symbolized along with the importance of being transparent to the public. The second is that a social media platform such as Twitter (with its 140 character limit) could be used quite successfully by the Judge to engage in a lively and responsive dialogue. The third is that an institution such as the Provincial Court has indicated that it is open to change and moving forward in new and interesting ways.

Personally I believe that these innovations help make the Court, law and legal resolution a bit less imposing and formidable. The Chief Judge, while being totally professional, showed that he is also approachable and real. This Town Hall has helped put a real human face on the Court. That is the power of social media …”

Hosting a Town Hall on social media may have been new for the Court, but as legal information and technology advisor Colin LaChance wrote in SLAW, “This effort seems a natural progression from the offline and online work this particular court has done to engage with the legal community and public at large.”

In 2014 the Provincial Court relaunched its public website, using plainer language and adding resources for people going to court without a lawyer. The relaunch began an ongoing process of updating and improving the website to ensure there’s always something new to interest visitors.

By 2015 the Court was posting weekly eNews articles on the website and tweeting. Its Twitter account adopted an approach that was less formal than that of most courts, providing information and resources related to the justice system. LaChance urged readers to check out eNews and follow @BCProvCourt, saying, “Both deliver useful and often fascinating content in a very human voice. The Twitter account in particular shows a genuine interest in the stories it finds and shares, and in the accounts that follow it.”

But while these online outreach initiatives use new forums, they simply broaden the BC Provincial Court’s tradition of judges’ engaging with their communities by speaking to local groups and classes and answering their questions. The web just extends the Court’s communication to a wider social media community. In fact, a lawyer tweeted praise for the Town Hall from India and the Court’s website has had visitors from 173 countries.

The Provincial Court is committed to increasing access to justice through its online engagement with members of the public, but to do that effectively it needs feedback. You can help by tweeting suggestions for the website, eNews and Twitter, using @BCProvCourt.