News & Events
Judge's report urges Ontario to let paralegals appear in family court
In what could prove to be a huge shakeup of the family court system in Ontario, the former chief justice of the provincial court is recommending that paralegals be allowed to provide some family law services unsupervised, including appearing in court.
The recommendations from former Ontario court chief justice Annemarie Bonkalo in a report released Monday were hailed by paralegals and condemned by lawyers, leaving the provincial government and the legal regulator to work out how to implement what are clearly divisive ideas.
Bonkalo herself admitted in the report that the recommendations dealing with paralegals will be the most contentious — paralegals are currently barred from appearing in family court.
"There are few subjects that cause more controversy within the family justice community than the provision of legal services by paralegals," Bonkalo states.
She is recommending that the Law Society of Upper Canada, which regulates both lawyers and paralegals in Ontario, create a specialized licence for paralegals to provide specific family legal services without the supervision of lawyers.
These services would include: custody and access issues, "simple" child support cases, restraining orders and simple divorce cases that don't involve property. Bonkalo also recommends that paralegals be allowed to represent their family law clients in court, other than at trials.
At the same time, the judge dismissed the idea of more funding for family lawyers through Legal Aid Ontario, although she said it was "proposed repeatedly" throughout consultations for her report.
"Recommendations like expanding legal aid to cover existing gaps are not practicable," she said. "Moreover, I do not agree that the solution to any crisis in access to legal services lies solely with (legal aid) or the government."
The report, commissioned by the Ministry of the Attorney General and the law society, comes as the family court system is facing a crisis. According to the province, over 57 per cent of people did not have a lawyer in family court in 2014-15, or about 21,000 people.