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Press Release

LAO tackles access to justice crisis for family law clients

Canada NewsWire

TORONTO, March 19, 2014 /CNW/ - Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) is developing a slate of programs and services to address the unmet legal needs of unrepresented family litigants as part of a larger, long-term strategy to improve access to justice for low-income Ontarians.

"Research shows that as many as 50 per cent of people in the family justice system try to solve their problems on their own because of limited available resources," says John McCamus, Chair of LAO. "Thanks to $30 million in additional provincial funding, LAO is in a position to expand on our current family services, while dedicating new resources to clients with family law needs."

LAO has consulted with a wide variety of stakeholder, and will use the provincial investment for a number of initiatives, over the next four years. The bulk of the investment will go towards funding projects involving the private bar and law school-operated student legal aid services societies.

LAO plans to help family law clients by:

  • reducing the number of unrepresented family litigants. Tens of thousands of Ontarians represent themselves each year in family courts because they either do not understand their rights or have the ability to hire a lawyer.

    LAO will be consulting with stakeholders on the potential expansion of access to certificates, which can be used by clients and lawyers to support a wide range of services, including negotiated settlements and agreements, interim motions, and representation in court

  • providing an avenue for consensual dispute resolution. Recent research has found that consensual dispute resolution is the single most attainable, efficient way of enhancing access to family justice.

    In February 2014, LAO launched a pilot to support mediation clients by covering the cost of a family lawyer. Clients can receive advice from a lawyer about the mediation process, assistance in preparing for the mediation, or develop a better understanding of their options. The lawyer can also assist with obtaining a court order or binding agreement to enforce the terms of the mediation agreement.

  • expanding the early resolution service sector. Providing advice earlier has the potential to help clients avoid difficult and costly litigation in the family justice system

    LAO plans to expand the number of its family law service centres so that clients can get

    • referrals
    • help with documents
    • full representation in family law cases
    • if eligible, referral to a private lawyer who does legal aid work
    • mediation and settlement conferences
    • referrals to other social service agencies

  • providing holistic and integrated services. There is a need for more holistic services, which acknowledge that families in crisis experience clusters of interrelated problems.

    LAO is partnering with a number of agencies such as Davenport-Perth Neighbourhood and Community Health Centre to develop an integrated service delivery model.

Next steps
Currently, LAO has 15 family law projects in development which make use of the additional provincial funding. More information will be made available as the projects get underway.

LAO will continue consulting with clients, the private bar, community clinics and community service providers on avenues for resolving family law disputes.

SOURCE Legal Aid Ontario