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TLA Responds to "Improving Access to Justice for Families" Report

March 9, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Leah Strudwick
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Justice Bonkalo has released her Family Services Review, Improving Access to Justice for Families: Making the Family Court System Easier to Navigate, that addresses the provision of legal services by persons other than lawyers.  It makes many recommendations for improvements to the system to provide better access to justice for litigants. 

The report sets out recommendations re: unbundled services, coaching and better administrative processes in the courthouse, which include suggestions the TLA supports. Of great concern to the TLA are the recommendations which suggest Ontario family law clients would be well served by having specialized licensed paralegals act independently for clients in matters of custody, simple child support, restraining orders, and simple divorce (if no property issues.) 

While licenced paralegals provide competent legal services, in defined areas, and hold an important position in the justice system in Ontario, their training and experience can never provide them with the skill set lawyers have, to view the family law client’s issues in total.  An issue as important as custody cannot be addressed without an examination of all circumstances of the family, including legal issues such as each parent’s overall financial position, including property and liabilities, mobility rights, past or potential domestic violence, effects of new partners and their family status, etc.  A non lawyer legal representative may be trained in completing the documents necessary to seek a divorce, but may not know to advise a client of the consequences of the divorce, such as the limitation period for seeking equalization of net family property, entitlement to survivor benefits in pensions, and the loss of extended health coverage.  Family law advice cannot be given in silo type responses to narrowly defined issues. Paralegals do not have the substantive legal knowledge to advise family law client about their rights and responsibilities.  Such a status is likely to lead to disastrous results. 

There is no doubt that the family law justice system is in crisis and requires major change. The first and most important step on this course of change is to fully implement the Unified Family Court across Ontario. There is no possible rationale to justify any further delay in this endeavour, after forty years have passed since the first such court opened in Hamilton. Rather than expand the role of lesser trained representatives for participants in the family law courts, the TLA supports expansion of mediation services. 

The TLA believes Ontario family law clients deserve competent legal advice which addresses all issues, from lawyer licensees, in order to have real access to justice. The TLA urges the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Law Society of Upper Canada to reject any paralegal licence to practice in the area of family law.

The TLA invites members who would like to participate in a discussion concerning the Bonkalo Report to attend a meeting on Wednesday, April 5 at 5:00 in the TLA Boardroom, Room S206, 361 University Ave.  Please RSVP to info@tlaonline.ca.