More Calls for Reform in the Ontario Family Law System
While the Ontario government has heralded reforms to streamline the family law system, a new Law Commission of Ontario (LCO) interim report is calling for additional measures.
The LCO, which is an independent organization that researches issues and recommends law reform measures to make the law accessible to all Ontario communities, has released an interim report recommending 39 different changes and reforms to the existing family law system. Many of these recommended changes are designed to increase access.
The interim report, titled “Best Practices at Family Justice System Entry Points: Needs of Users and Responses of Workers in the Justice System” emphasizes the need for litigants, especially those who are self-represented, to have ready access to entry-points to the legal system.
For example, the Ontario government currently provides Family Law Information Centres, which are located in various courthouses. However, the LCO suggests this choice of locale may limit accessibility, and recommends instead that such Information Centres be placed in more strategic locations, such as libraries, doctors’ offices, supermarkets and law firms. On the other hand, the LCO still acknowledges the need for personalized fact-to-face interaction for those who need information on legal services, but points out that this is not always available, because most Ontario Legal Clinics do not provide services in family law issues. As such, the LCO suggests that legal aid lawyers could be positioned in community centres (especially in rural areas with limited legal service); alternatively, the government could provide subsidies to those legal clinics that offer family law advice.
The LCO report also puts forth recommended changes to the Alternative Dispute Resolution aspect of family law, suggesting that the government establish and fund a court-wide network of Dispute Resolution Officers, and that it provide legal aid certificates to those low-income people who are willing to use non-judicial options for resolving their disputes.
Finally, the report makes several other recommendations for government-implemented changes, including:
• establishing early access to information through one basic brochure and one online website;
• providing increased legal aid for persons trying to negotiate an agreement or trying to mediate a family dispute;
• in the long term, providing family centres across the province which offer comprehensive family justice services at entry point level, close to people’s communities.
These suggested family law reforms are an adjunct to earlier recommendations by the LCO, which among other things has resulted in the implementation of advisory groups, consultations, and research papers. The present report will similarly be the subject of consultation with various stakeholders until April 30, 2012, after which time the LCO will begin the task of assimilating the received input and preparing a final report.