Shannon Salter

Class of 2004-2005

For many, the thought of going to court over a small claims dispute can be an overwhelming prospect. Peter A. Allard School of Law alumna Shannon Salter is hoping to make the task a little easier as the chair of the newly-created BC Civil Resolution Tribunal.

When it opens later this year, the Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) will be the first online tribunal in Canada, and one of the first in the world. This tribunal will allow people to make choices about where, when and how they resolve their strata property and small claims disputes.

Salter says that due to the significant costs and lengthy waiting periods that may come with a traditional hearing, many people who experience a dispute never get their ‘day in court’. The tribunal will be improving access to justice by placing a heavy emphasis on early dispute resolution. They will assist people in resolving their disputes faster and consensually using an online system, that allows for negotiation, facilitation, and adjudication, if necessary. One of the key features of the CRT will be the 60-day end-to-end timeline they are hoping to achieve for dispute resolution.

“I think oftentimes self-represented people really struggle to navigate the existing court system. The CRT gives them choices about how to resolve their dispute in a very quick, affordable, fair and easy to understand way. We know that people tend to be happier with outcomes over which they have some level of control and participation, so that’s what we’re trying to give them.”

Salter explaines that the idea for this alternative form of dispute resolution came about as a result of the high costs for legal services and the complexity of the justice system, which make it difficult for Canadians to access. The CRT hopes to reduce access barriers by allowing people to manage their disputes remotely through the use of tablets, smartphones or home computers.

The CRT will also provide telephone and mail-based services and is working with advocacy groups to ensure that all groups are able to access the system, including those with language barriers or disabilities.

“What we’re trying to do is put the public first by bringing the justice system to them, whether it’s in Fort St. John or Vancouver, if it’s in a coffee shop or wherever else they happen to be. We know that people have busy lives. What we’re trying to do is fit in around their lives, instead of requiring them to fit in around the justice system.”

Shannon graduated from the Allard School of Law in 2005. After clerking at the BC Supreme Court and practicing in general litigation for a number of years, Shannon and her husband, also an Allard alumnus, moved to Toronto to complete master’s degrees, where they also welcomed their eldest daughter. With an LLM in Constitutional Law and Access to Justice from the University of Toronto, Shannon moved with her family back to Vancouver, making the transition into the field of administrative law. She was appointed vice-chair of the Worker’s Compensation Appeal Tribunal, and she currently sits as a Commissioner on the Financial Institutions Commission. Shannon spends her spare time raising her two young daughters and teaching administrative law at the Allard School of Law as an adjunct professor.

Shannon is very passionate about her work, noting that many students entering law school don’t necessarily consider a career in administrative law when they’re starting. Salter points out that there are a number of exciting opportunities within this field, including work related to tribunals like the CRT. She would encourage law students and recent graduates to explore an area of the law that touches on so many important aspects of people’s lives.

Shannon says her focus going forward will be to make sure that the CRT is achieving its mandate of putting the public first. As part of her commitment to continuous improvement, she expects to consult with stakeholders and incorporate their needs back into the system in an agile way. As an early adopter of the online tribunal system and the first in Canada, Salter says all eyes will be on British Columbia to see how the initiative plays out.

For more information about the tribunal, visit: http://www.civilresolutionbc.ca