We are facing a crisis in our justice system.
These are the facts:
The majority of the public cannot afford full representation by a lawyer for more than (at most) a limited amount of time.
This has led to a dramatic increase in self-representation in our family courts. In some urban centres those without lawyers reach almost 80%, and average 57% across Ontario. This means that more than half of all parties come to family court alone.
Without a significant reduction in the cost of legal services, this trend is irreversible.
As the stresses of self-representation gradually overwhelm them, many people report significant adverse health consequences, both mental and physical. They struggle with social isolation, disruption in their family relationships and parenting responsibilities, and negative employment consequences.
Only lawyers - not paralegals - are presently permitted to offer legal services to family litigants in Ontario.
It is very likely that if you were to face a family law problem (divorce, custody issues, etc.), you would find yourself facing the challenge of self-representation. Most Ontarians now fall into the gap between those who do not qualify for legal aid (a single person must earn less than $16,000 a year in most cases to be considered), and those who can afford full representation at upwards of $350 an hour.
Justice Annemarie Bonkalo was appointed in February 2016 by the Ministry of the Attorney-General (or MAG, the legal department of the Ontario government) and the Law Society of Upper Canada (or LSUC, which oversees the legal profession in Ontario) to lead a review of who can offer family legal services in Ontario.
The recommendations of Justice Bonkalo have now been published (the full review and recommendations can be read here.) A central recommendation is that the Law Society of Upper Canada create a special licence to allow paralegals to provide legal services in some family cases. Licenced paralegals will be able to provide a full range of services in relation to these matters, up to and including representation in court. This licence will be issued to paralegals who have successfully completed specialized training in family legal services.
The response of legal organizations to Bonkalo - including the Ontario Bar Association, the Advocate's Society, the ADR Institute of Ontario, Family Mediation Canada and the Ontario Collaborative Law Federation - has been to to reject the idea of using paralegals as a more affordable type of legal service in some matters. The argument is that that the public should trust and accept that only lawyers should offer family legal services, and that they should somehow "find the money" to pay for a lawyer's expertise. Unfortunately, many family lawyers are allowing these organizations to speak for them.
This is why we are asking you - whether you are a member of the public, a lawyer, or paralegal - to sign our petition, and throw your weight behind these practical and reasonable recommendations for change in our legal system.
Public support for these important recommendations is critical to ensuring they are implemented.
This petition has been written and is managed by the National Self-Represented Litigants Project (NSRLP). For more information, please visit our website.