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Fixing the justice system, one blog post at a time

Apr 25 2012

Early Tuesday morning, Geoffrey Cowper blogged about whether dramatic or incremental change is needed to fix the problems in the B.C. justice system.

"What would dramatic change look like today?" he mused on the B.C. Justice Reform Initiative website.

The lawyer in charge of reviewing B.C.'s justice system is hoping to reach out - through his blog - to dayto-day workers, line prosecutors, court staff, sheriffs, court watchers, victims and police about reform initiatives. He also wants to encourage public discussion about the operation of the criminal justice system.

"I'm hoping we could build up a body of topics on a blog and build up a bit of an audience and get to a section of the public who haven't really participated before," Cowper said.

Reforms to the justice system have produced short-term changes and small, worthwhile changes, but there hasn't been really significant change for quite awhile, Cowper said.

"We have to decide what we want," he said. "If we settle upon significant goals, we're going to require some kind of significant change to achieve them. If it's really the time for a number of incremental but positive goals, less significant change is needed. I haven't made up my mind yet, but a number of people are saying dramatic changes are needed."

Cowper, a partner at Fasken Martineau, started blogging on March 1.

"This blog will include posts by me that are purely informational, that express ideas I have heard from consultations or research, and that address one or another of the issues that fall within the review," he wrote.

Initial feedback included comments on the complexity of trials, the inefficiency of adjournments and multiple appearances and disclosure issues. On March 22, Cowper posted his first interim report.

So far, several thousand people have visited Cowper's blog. Feedback varies from excellent, insightful and expert submissions to comments not founded in fact, he said.

"I think it's much better to try out ideas and give people a chance to comment on them, then see what the holes and frailties are in the proposals. That's what I'm hoping to do, especially in May and June," Cowper said.

His final report is to be delivered in July.

"I'm not going to solve all the problems in the world," he said. "But I hope to get together a number of successful promising changes to tackle the problems identified."

Cowper's review included a visit last week to Victoria's integrated court, which deals with offenders who have a history of drug and alcohol addiction, mental disorders and unstable housing. The court focuses on how the criminal justice system can help change the behaviour of frequent offenders.

"The court appears to be successful because it represents a co-ordinated approach," Cowper said. "If this is working, what aspects of it can be used elsewhere?"

ldickson@timescolonist.com

> On the web: Cowper's blog is at bcjusticereform.ca/blog

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