Lessons from The Pink Book

UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 12 | Dec.
4, 2003

Law student prepares girls’ guide to justice system

By Erica Smishek

UBC Law student Patricia Cochran sees red when she thinks
how poorly adolescent girls living in poverty are treated
in the criminal justice system.

She’d prefer to see pink.

Cochran is heading up the research and writing for The Pink
Book, a handbook designed to provide defence lawyers with
the information they need to bring the best defence for girls
aged 12 to 18 under the Youth Criminal Justice Act and protect
the rights of girls in prison. Another version, The Little
Pink Book, is also being prepared for girls themselves.

“Young women’s rights are often overlooked and
are not responded to fairly by police, by the courts, not
by the correctional system,” Cochran says. “I
hope the books will help change that.”

The books are an initiative of Justice for Girls, a social
justice organization that promotes support, justice and equality
for adolescent girls who have experienced violence and live
in poverty. Cochran, now in third-year law, began doing pro
bono work for the group two years ago, completing legal research
projects and making presentations at workshops and conferences
on behalf of the organization.

She and fellow law student Kat Kinch are collaborating on
the handbooks, which will be readable collections of explanations
and tips about legal issues, including human rights, through
every step of the criminal justice process.

“Essentially, we’re saying ‘here’s
the law, here’s what we think about the law, here’s
some background and here’s some advice,’”
Cochran explains. “We’ll also be incorporating
stories that are made up but are related to real lives. This
will personalize issues and procedures in a way so people
can understand how some obscure law can affect these young

Justice for Girls, which is partly funded by the Law Foundation
of B.C. and Status of Women Canada, takes the feminist position
that young women in poverty are the experts of their own experience.
It works to provide the support and resources that girls need
to act on their own behalf in creating change in their lives.

Cochran, who has a BA from McGill University and an MA in
political science from the University of Toronto, says the
books adhere to the same principle.

“We want lawyers to better understand how to effectively
communicate with these young women. It’s the responsibility
of a lawyer that their client actually understands what’s
going on and that their client has to be the one to give the
lawyer instructions.

“Many girls don’t realize what their rights are
in this regard. Lawyers must explain the roles clearly and
put the decisions into the hands of young women in terms of
whether to respond and how to proceed through the system.
We need to put the power into these young women’s hands.”

Justice For Girls has also been working on a rights card,
a basic outline with tips on what to do if approached by the
authorities, arrested, interrogated, asked to be stripped
searched, etc. that girls can carry in their pockets.