Community team explores alternatives to adversaries

Faculty are among those working to find ways to resolve legal disputes outside the court system

by Bruce Mason staff writer

The complaints are commonplace and long-standing: our adversarial approach to resolving legal disputes is too costly, too slow and emotionally draining. Many litigants find the process mystifying, disempowering and unfair.

Now an interdisciplinary team of UBC faculty and 13 community partners will explore and evaluate the alternatives, which will fundamentally change the practice of law in the new millennium.

"Our court system has developed over hundreds of years, but only relatively recently have we begun to look more closely and place greater emphasis on mediation and other alternatives to dispute resolution," says Hon. Chief Justice Bryan Williams of the Supreme Court of B.C. "This program is part of a growing force which is a good one in the minds of many people."

The project for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): A Collaborative Program of Research and Training -- will focus on four sub-projects: family law, personal injury accidents, construction law (including leaky condominiums) and human rights. It also involves law education at UBC.

"We are very pleased to be working with the external community on issues it thinks are important," says John Hogarth, professor of Law and director of the program, which will draw on senior scholars at the university from law, psychology, sociology, education and evaluative research.

"Every professional, governmental and advocacy group we consulted were keen to become actively involved," he adds.

One million dollars in cash, space and staff is being provided by the university and its primary partners. As well, the UBC ADR applied research project has been awarded $600,000 as the top-ranked proposal in the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council's Community-University Research Alliances, which invited 178 formal submissions.

The significance and range of the UBC initiative is reflected in its primary partners which include: the Supreme Court of B.C., Provincial Court, the Ministry of Attorney General and the Law Society of B.C.; The Canadian Bar Association; the B.C. Human Rights Commission, and Coalition; the B.C. Federation of Labour, Coalition of B.C. Business and Business Council of B.C., the Insurance Corporation of B.C. and the B.C. Automobile Association (BCAA); the Condominium Home Owners Association and Vancouver Regional Construction Association.

"We consider the work being done on ADR at UBC to be vital," says John Ratel, director of Government Relations for the BCAA. "There is an overwhelming need for an equitable, fair and fast solution to claims from automobile collisions and other incidents."

Cases resolved under new ADR mechanisms will be compared with those where no mediation was attempted or did not succeed.

A three-year ADR skills-oriented program of instruction is underway in the Faculty of Law and mediation services will be offered to clients of the Law Student Legal Advice program in 24 locations in the Lower Mainland and in the First Nations Legal Clinic in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.