Towards a Community of Administrative Justice

I have spilled a fair bit of ink in my academic career arguing that administrative justice is and should be designed to be a “system” of justice, on a continuum with courts and other formal and informal mechanisms to resolve disputes in accessible and effective ways, and hold public decision-makers accountable. This past week, however, I’ve also been reflecting on whether there also can be said to be an administrative justice community, and if so, what its composition and key shared values and features might be.

The first occasion for this reflection was the lovely tribute dinner on May 25, 2017, for Voy Stelmaszynski on his receipt of the Tom Marshall Award from the Ontario Bar Association (Public Sector Lawyers Section). In his wise and witty reply to the various tributes, Voy spoke of the Administrative Justice community among others he felt supported by and this included the Society of Ontario Adjudicators and Regulators (SOAR) of which he is now the President. He also noted the SOAR-Osgoode Professional Development partnership that has expanded that community and includes now a Certificate in Adjudication for Administrative Agencies, Boards and Tribunals and a new Advanced Certificate program . These programs have become a portal and a point of departure for many from diverse professional and personal backgrounds as they embark on careers in administrative justice.

The second occasion at which the community of administrative justice came to mind was in Vancouver, on May 27, 2017, at the annual Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice (CIAJ) Administrative Law Roundtable. Bringing together tribunal members, judges, litigators and academics – with an engaging keynote address from former Supreme Court Justice Tom Cromwell –  this interactive discussion showed a different side to the administrative justice community – one based on the search for ideas, thought-leadership and ways to improve administrative justice, and the dynamic relationships between the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government.

The third and final occasion for my recent thoughts on the administrative justice community was also in Vancouver, at the annual symposium of the Canadian Council of Administrative Tribunals (CCAT), this year conjoined with the annual symposium of the BC Council of Administrative Tribunals (BCCAT), which brings together tribunal members, chairs, counsel and others for a mixture of new perspectives (I had the opportunity to moderate a lively discussion, for example, on how design thinking can reshape tribunal reform, featuring Margaret Hagan from the Stanford Legal Design Lab), and practical guides to improved tribunal performance and engagement (sessions tackled online dispute resolution and social media, as well as integrating Reconciliation strategies in Tribunal rules and practices).

While an inchoate and dispersed group by any definition (with members at the federal, provincial, municipal and Indigenous levels of public agencies, boards and commissions, and including staff, members, lawyers, judges, academics and other kindred hangers-on), it has become nonetheless clear that the cumulative shared experience and vantages of this group definitely constitutes a community – both a community of people and a community of practice in the search for innovative ways to do justice to a variety of statutory mandates in the public interest in order to solve problems and improve people’s lives. I’m proud to be a part of the administrative justice community, and to continue to learn from, and to support and strengthen this community in whatever ways I can.