New Family / Criminal Court in Ontario — Still in Its Early Days
In a ground-breaking move for the Canadian justice system, effective June 10, 2011 an Ontario pilot project has merged the hearing of Family Court cases and criminal domestic cases. The Integrated Domestic Violence (IDV) Court meshes the functions of the criminal court at Old City Hall in downtown Toronto with the Family Court located at 311 Jarvis.
The concept is that the hybrid court will be more efficient, in that it hears both family and criminal matters involving the same parties and stemming from the same family relationships. Although the two types of cases are treated distinctly in terms of procedure, in the IDV Court both kinds of cases are heard by the same judge, in a single courtroom. The philosophy behind this innovative structure is that it will result in fewer court attendances, an avoidance of contradictory court orders, and overall a more efficient procedure.
The IDV Court hears only those family cases that involve domestic violence and give rise to issues relating to custody, access, child support, spousal support, and the granting of restraining orders. It does not hear issues relating to divorce, division family property, or child protection. The criminal matters under its potential ambit are restricted to those that would otherwise have fallen under the Old City Hall courthouse’s jurisdiction. The IDV Court also has a dedicated Crown counsel, staff dedicated to victim and witness protection services, and its own Community Resource Worker, who is responsible for directing parties to various available services such as anger management and addiction programs.
So far, the IDV Court has been slow to take off: since its official launch in the summer, scheduled hearing dates have been few and far between. This may be because the threshold for a particular party’s/litigants’ eligibility to have their matter heard in the court is quite strict, and includes geographical limitations which will rule out the large majority of those litigants who would otherwise be interested. Also, both parties to a dispute must consent to having their matter heard in IDV Court. Finally, the slow start may also be a result of lawyers and litigants being reluctant to avail themselves of this new and novel form of hybrid judicial body.
Still, it is hoped that (if successful), the IDV Court will be the model for similar courts across Ontario and perhaps across the country.
For more information, see the Ontario Courts’ webpage at: http://www.ontariocourts.on.ca/ocj/en/idvc/