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Lawyer's review of B.C. legal system to progress in blog

Geoffrey Cowper is seen here in this June, 22, 2011 photo.

JOHN LEHMANN/JOHN LEHMANN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

The lawyer in charge of a review of B.C.'s troubled $1.4-billion justice system says he doesn't believe in sealing himself off while doing his work, so he's maintaining an official blog to provide a sense of his thinking as he works towards a July deadline.

"I am not fond of the model for this project of someone going into a closet and coming back out and saying, 'Here's my vision for the ideal legal system,'" said Geoffrey Cowper, a partner with Fasken Martineau, who previously sat on the commission into the death of Frank Paul.

"I made a decision early in my work that I thought the best product I could produce in the six months available would be as a result of a genuine consultation with other people who are living and concerned about the same topics," he said in an interview.

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In February, Premier Christy Clark named Mr. Cowper to lead a review of the B.C. legal system, which has been under fire over lengthy trial delays and cases thrown out.

His ongoing consultations include meetings with stakeholders and conventional written submissions, but Mr. Cowper said he was looking for something more informal, and decided to sit down at the keyboard as often as possible to punch out postings on ideas, issues or questions that have come up. He said he is not aware of any similar blogs for an ongoing review.

"Nobody is writing for me," said Mr. Cowper, remarking on his first-ever blog.

Off the job, he likes reading liberal and conservative blogs side by side to compare both sides of issues. Also, he admires the blog U.S. legal scholar Richard Posner maintains with Nobel-prize-winning economist Craig Becker. "They are not people I agree with necessarily, but they are very insightful people who have a lot of obvious brilliance on particular topics."

Mr. Cowper kicked off his work blog with a posting that declared: "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 of the issues that fell within the review.

"I will post links to useful information from time to time, and welcome any suggestions you may have as to helpful resources and other relevant information to inform the discussion."

Mr. Cowper said he believes the blog approach works best on a policy-oriented project rather than in a proceeding revolving around fact finding, such as the inquiry into Mr. Paul's death from exposure after police dumped him in an alley.

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"To the extent that we can carry on the conversation through the social media, that conversation could be richer, and offer more hope for building of consensus and identification of constructive reforms," he said.

So far, Mr. Cowper has received more than 30 comments on the blog and 50 submissions via a feedback form. He says the site has had 3,500 unique visitors. By his estimate, three-quarters of the submissions have offered constructive and thoughtful ideas.

In one blog posting, he wondered aloud about "the right measures" of justice-system efficiency. In another, he said he had delivered his first interim report – posted on the blog. "It doesn't make for stirring reading."

Mr. Cowper wrote he had looked at reform efforts in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario, and was particularly impressed by Ontario's Justice on Target, a project to speed up criminal cases.

"The Justice on Target program clearly offers some hope for reform as well as caution about the difficulty of obtaining significant change," he wrote.

Mr. Cowper said it would be a mistake to believe he is previewing his final report in his blog. Don't expect, for example, he will recommend Ms. Clark adopt Justice on Target for B.C.

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Overall, Mr. Cowper said his challenge is getting a handle on the many relevant issues and material so he can come up with specific justice-system proposals. "It's under stress for a lot of different sources. It's not just one thing.

"There's all sorts of reasons our justice system is having difficulty coping with the stresses it's under."

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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