TAS Responds to Law Society of Ontario Consultation on Family Legal Services Provider Licence
Posted on November 30, 2020.
The Advocates' Society recognizes the challenge faced by many Ontarians who cannot afford a lawyer to represent them in family law proceedings. The Society believes the solution to this problem is to improve Ontarians' access to lawyers and to implement systemic changes to streamline and simplify family law proceedings.
Today, The Advocates' Society issued its response to a consultation paper released by the Law Society of Ontario which proposed the creation of a new family legal services provider licence. The new licence, once developed, would allow individuals who are not lawyers – including paralegals – to practise family law in areas such as child custody, child and spousal support and property matters. The Advocates Society has concluded that this proposed solution will not address the access to justice issues that exist in Ontario’s family justice system and will not benefit Ontarians.
Introducing a new class of licensees who would provide family law services, separate from lawyers and not under the supervision of lawyers, is not a viable solution to the access to justice problem. These individuals would require significant formal and experiential legal training to be able to competently provide legal services to the public in an area of law that is increasingly complex. Even with that training, there is inadequate evidence to show that this proposed new class of licensees would make family legal services more affordable for Ontarians.
"Family law disputes go to the very heart of our lives. It is critically important that Ontarians have access to lawyers when dealing with fundamentally important issues such as their children and their home," said Guy Pratte, President of The Advocates' Society. "We need to find access to justice solutions that allow all members of the public access to lawyers, regardless of their income."
The Advocates' Society urges the Law Society to channel its resources to promote and expand access to a number of programs that have recently been developed to help Ontario families access the legal assistance they need.
A number of these initiatives have only started in the past year or two and are already helping to close the access to justice gap for families in Ontario. They present a wide range of alternatives for families to get the legal assistance they need, including getting targeted advice and information on specific legal issues without having to hire a lawyer for the entire duration of a proceeding, and are offered to the public for free or at a much reduced cost. The Advocates Society urges the Law Society to bolster these initiatives by leading a broad education campaign about options and resources for families involved in legal proceedings, including a centralized internet-based resource for the public. A summary of these programs is set out in the attached backgrounder.
"The legal profession has a long-standing tradition of providing pro bono and low-cost services to members of the public. What family lawyers across Ontario have created to provide legal services to members of the public, through innovative programs and models, is remarkable. These initiatives represent the most effective ways to improve access to justice in family law and continue to enhance the public’s confidence in the administration of justice," said Mr. Pratte.
The Advocates' Society also urges expansion of the Unified Family Court, the reform and simplification of family law court processes, and increased funding for Legal Aid Ontario – all of which play a key role in advancing access to justice.
The Advocates' Society's full submission in response to the consultation paper released by the Law Society of Ontario is available here