British Columbia’s Civil Resolution Tribunal is chaired by Shannon Salter. A lawyer who initially specialised in civil litigation, she took a master’s degree in the field of access to justice before gaining experience as a tribunal member. Her job as the CRT’s first chair is a mixture of judicial, administrative and development work. There are now four other full-time tribunal members and another 38 legally qualified members across British Columbia who sit part-time.1 However, the CRT is recruiting more members and aiming for a total complement of around 60.2
The solution explorer was used more than 23,700 times between the summer of 2016 and the end of 2017.3 From initial explorations of that kind, the CRT currently receives between 350 and 450 new applications for dispute resolution each month. Just over 800 strata claims were lodged during the CRT’s first 18 months, as well as around 2,500 small claims in the six months since it began accepting them. Only about 15 per cent of small claims lodged with the tribunal get as far as the adjudication stage, which means that as many as 85 per cent are resolved by negotiation or mediation. Strata claims are more difficult to resolve and so a higher proportion come before the tribunal.
Once a claim reaches the tribunal, everything changes. The CRT no longer has a benign interest in helping people to help themselves. It becomes instead an impartial court with a duty to ensure procedural fairness. Its process is adversarial although its proceedings are normally written. In due course a reasoned decision is sent to the parties and published.
If fairness requires an oral hearing — perhaps because the credibility of a witness is at issue — then a one can be arranged by telephone or through video-conferencing techniques. Parties may address the tribunal from their smart phones or tablets.
“We don’t rule out the idea of having an in-person hearing one day, Shannon Salter told me in December 2017.4 “But it hasn’t happened yet. In fact, an oral hearing hasn’t happened yet. One thing that has surprised us is that no party has so far requested one.”
This seemed to contradict the received wisdom that people wanted their day in court — and that the court had to be a physical courtroom. “As it turns out,” Shannon Salter told me, people are generally quite happy not to take a day off work or arrange child care to travel to a hearing.” Some people found easier to express themselves in writing, she added.