When people don’t have a lawyer to represent them in court, they may want to have a support person sit beside them during their trial to provide emotional support, take notes and organize documents. In April of this year, the BC Provincial Court adopted Support Person Guidelines to give people some certainty about when they will be permitted to have a support person help them, and what kind of help they can provide.
But it’s not enough to take a positive step like this to improve access to justice – you have to let people know about it. Our next challenge was making people aware of the opportunity to have a support person and what the guidelines are. One way we’re trying to do that is with a new information poster that can be printed and posted on a wall, or handed out as a flyer.
How have we tried to inform people about the Support Person Guidelines?
Since 2015, the Court has been communicating with the public through eNews articles like this one, posted regularly on its website, and through its Twitter account @BCProvCourt. We used both those methods to let people know about the possibility of having a support person accompany them in a family or small claims trial.
We also email occasional announcements or press releases about significant events to justice system organizations and members of the media. Because of the potential importance of information about the Guidelines to people attending court without a lawyer, we issued a press release about them, and obtained some coverage in regional news and the online Lawyers Daily.
Many organizations shared the news on Twitter and elsewhere. For example, the Clicklaw blog named us its organization of the month, citing the Guidelines as one of the Court’s innovations. The Legal Services Society added information on the Guidelines to their Family Law website.
We followed up by sending links to the Guidelines and information about them to organizations that help self-represented litigants, asking them to share the information with their front-line staff and volunteers.
Now the poster
We wanted to add a visual component to the information available on the Guidelines, and were delighted when University of Windsor law student Crystal Law volunteered to create a poster. She was able to fit the most important information, expressed in plain language, into a two-sided page that can be printed and displayed or handed out. The Court is grateful to Ms. Law for volunteering her time and skills to this project.
We invite anyone who deals with self-represented litigants to download the information poster and/or or this one-page flyer, or to use them online, to let people know about the opportunity to have a support person in a BC Provincial Court family or small claims hearing or trial.
Media outlets could also help people facing all the challenges of attending family or small claims court without a lawyer by letting them know about this opportunity.