JP Boyd on Family Law Editorial Manifesto
An editorial manifesto for a new public legal education resource
by John-Paul Boyd, Updated for 2017
When Courthouse Libraries and I first started talking about this wiki project, there were some core values that I wanted the wiki to maintain. I’d never thought about these things before, but when we started talking about how the wiki would look and operate, I realized that there were certain qualities of my old BC Family Law Resource website that I wanted to preserve. From this came a set of guiding principles for the editorial tone of what is now called JP Boyd on Family Law. My hope is that this resource will continue to:
- Be free
The information should be available at no charge, without restriction and without expectation of reward.
- Be written in plain language
The information this resource provides should be as accessible as possible, save that it mustn't ever be inaccurate. It should use colloquial, everyday language. It should avoid lawyer’s jargon. It should use humour to lighten up the subject matter, and metaphor to better explain it.
- Be up-to-date and accurate
The information should be timely and accurate, within reason and practicality.
- Be opinionated
The information shouldn't just describe the law and available legal options to readers, but be prescriptive and recommendatory, when being prescriptive and recommendatory is appropriate. To some extent this will be an expression of policy and preference, but if a particular available court of action is ill-advised, the resource should say so.
- Promote good behaviour in the justice system
The information should promote the overall functioning of the family justice system by promoting behaviours, choices and strategies that are helpful and facilitate the resolution of disputes while discouraging those which do not and, in particular, behaviours that degrade the efficiency of court registry services as well as chambers and trial processes.
- Be available for saving, sharing, reusing and redistributing
The information should be broadly shareable and shared. Sharing and redistribution should be encouraged on the conditions that the source of the information be identified and that any subsequent reuse not be for a commercial purpose. Readers should be easily able to copy, save and store the information in the formats that best meet their needs.
- Be helpful
Above all, the information should be helpful. It should be practical and pragmatic and the wiki should provide other resources, like court forms, charts, checklists and links to external websites, where they serve a practical purpose.
(The bit about this resource being opinionated, prescriptive and recommendatory needs a bit of an explanation. Writing as an individual I have always felt free to express my views on things through my website, although I took care to ensure that my employers wouldn't be tarred with, or too upset about, my opinions. As a result, rather than trying to provide a legally complete, politically neutered website that in trying to say all things for all people wound up saying nothing, I have felt free to use the forbidden terms “should” and “shouldn’t.” I have said that parenting coordination can be expensive (it can), that grandparents will have a hard time getting parenting time over the objections of a parent (they will) and that the cost of resolving a legal dispute through trial can be prohibitively expensive (it is). There is value, I think, in being able to say “yes you can make an application for an order restraining the children from having their hair cut on Wednesdays, but you shouldn’t because it’s not worth the time, the money, the conflict or the anxiety.” I hope that in learning what you can do, you'll also learn what you oughtn't.
Finally, in reading the 2012 report of the Family Justice Working Group of the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters, I gained further insight into the purposes behind my website. In a discussion about court-provided information programs, the working group commented that:
“Beyond the obvious value of orienting and helping to organize the parties, these programs are premised on two ideas. The first is that information is essential to a fair resolution. The second is that information is a dispute resolution tool, or put in the negative, misinformation can generate and prolong disputes. … Early information has been demonstrated to be sufficiently effective in reducing conflict and expediting resolution that many provinces have elected to make it mandatory.”
I took two principles from this. First, that accurate legal information is essential to the fair resolution of family law disputes. Second, that accurate legal information is itself a tool for the resolution of family law disputes. That was kind of what I had always had in mind for my website.
I hope that you find this resource useful as you navigate the family law minefield.