The Absence of Deliberate Design in Canada's Legal System
The struggle of our courts to operate during COVID-19 brought considerable attention to Canada’s legal system. But our legal system struggled to operate long before COVID-19. Crisis already plagued it. Serious concerns had been raised about access to justice: complacency; delay; inconsistency; and overwhelming expense. Yet we lack the data we need to design solutions. Canada has a legal data deficit. We know more about sports teams than we do about our legal system. But two things are clear. Marginalized people bear a brunt of the access to justice crisis. Our legal system is not based on any deliberate design: its foundation rests on colonialism, rebellion, precedent, inertia, and patchy reforms. My research examines how judicial decision-making interacts with the access to justice crisis, the data deficit, and the absence of deliberate design. My research objective is two-fold: create and analyze datasets about Canada’s legal system; design improvements for judicial decision-making and written judicial decisions. Judicial decisions are our legal system’s cornerstone. They contain countless data points about the issues that drive litigants to court and how judges resolve their disputes. Because of decisions’ inconsistent structure, length, and imprecision, this data is neither compiled nor analyzed. But if decisions were better designed, at least three gains could occur: (1) Data in better structured decisions would be easily amenable to data science. We could gain insights we lack, e.g., how individual judges sentence marginalized people. The legal data deficit would improve. (2) We could use this data to design new user-focused laws and processes. The absence of deliberate design would fade. (3) Litigation could become cheaper, faster, and more predictable. Access to justice would improve.