SLAW: Launch of the Northern Ireland Family Court Info Website & Pathfinder Tool

In the summer of 2019, the BC Family Justice Innovation Lab received an invitation to work with a group from Ulster University in Northern Ireland to improve access to justice for litigants in person (we call them “SRLs”). Led by Professor Gráinne McKeever, the group was eager to use a human-centred design process as part of their research project. Jane Morley Q.C. and I arrived in Belfast in early November 2019 and supported the team to design and implement the first of a series of HCD workshops with diverse participants including, of course, users. It was a wonderful experience, and you can read more about it here.

Our Northern Ireland colleagues worked diligently (and with great perseverance during the pandemic) to complete the workshops and bring the best ideas to life. On April 13, 2022, the team hosted a presentation launching two interlocking tools:

Both are “first iterations” created for use by family members who are “making arrangements for children when parents are no longer together”. They are written in easy-to-understand language and the site includes a “Legal Jargon Buster”. This piece by itself is a great idea – as justice system insiders we forget how much of our language is filled with terms that are opaque and confusing to most members of the public!

The website is designed to include those elements that the litigants in person (users) said were most important and it links to many other helpful sites and information (Forms & Links tab).

It begins with a description of alternatives to going to court (parenting plans, family mediation and collaborative law) which put the child at the centre, and then provides an overview of how the family court system works.

Embedded in the site is the new Pathfinder Tool: “Use this tool to find out what you can do given your current situation”. Pathfinder employs user-friendly language and guides the user through each issue using a question/response method. While appearing simple to the user we know that behind the scenes is an enormous decision-tree analysis that I’m sure took months/years to create and flesh out.

It reminds me of the MyLawBC approach which uses each answer to pull up the next question, answer or resource. Isn’t it wonderful that human-centred design processes in two different jurisdictions and legal systems identified many of the same barriers and potential solutions?

I invite you to explore both tools and consider how they might inform our family law A2J initiatives here in BC. The recording of the launch session presentation is hereCongratulations to Professor McKeever and her team!!! This is a significant contribution to access to justice for families and children.