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Relationship with its partners, the parties to the Agreement creating the LCO: As it begins its second mandate, the LCO’s partners have confirmed their strong support for the existence of an independent law reform commission and for the LCO’s approach to its activities. The LCO’s partners have recognized the importance of a law reform agency’s independence, at the same time as they have naturally expected it to be accountable for its funding and other support. Their support and expectations are both strengths. The LCO has been able to undertake activities it might not have undertaken had its funding been linked to particular projects; at the same time external expectations reinforce the LCO’s intention to be responsible in how it conducts itself. The relations with the law schools have enabled the LCO to keep abreast of current research and to deliver a law reform message to students.
Relationships with the legal profession and community groups: Over the first five years, the LCO has undertaken considerable outreach in different parts of Ontario and project-related consultations across the province that have established connections with a wide variety of groups, including the legal profession and community-based groups, among others. These relationships have enriched the LCO’s projects and have enabled it to establish a foundation on which to build its outreach and consultation in the future.
Legal and administrative staff members: The dedication and commitment to excellence and to the law reform enterprise of the LCO’s staff members, and their willingness to raise difficult questions and to take the initiative, have meant that the LCO has been able to establish itself as a credible and innovative law reform commission within only four years of significant operation.
The Executive Director: the person in this position must establish and maintain relationships with a range of diverse sectors; work effectively with the Board of Governors, the new Community Council and the Law School Research and Liaison Group; be aware of emerging law reform issues; ensure excellence in the LCO’s work; and maintain a smoothly functioning law reform agency. The current Executive Director has also helped the LCO develop a reputation for quality scholarship on law reform.
The Board of Governors: The Board members are committed to quality and openness to innovation in law reform; they are willing to speak for the LCO. Under the active leadership of its two chairs to date who have been invested in the idea of an independent law reform body, the Board has been crucial to the LCO’s success.
The LCO’s experience: This is a new source of strength for the second mandate. While the excitement of “newness” contributed to the LCO’s willingness to experiment and establish an ambitious agenda, the excitement has been tempered by experience. This does not mean that the LCO will not continue to experiment and to pursue the goal of becoming a leader in law reform through its distinctive approach, only that the LCO can benefit from the lessons of the first mandate to achieve those objectives more effectively.
Relationship with government: This is a major source of strength, even as it will no doubt always be a challenge. The LCO and the Ministry of the Attorney General have developed a relationship based on trust and a common interest in having the LCO succeed. The LCO and other ministries and government officials have also begun to develop relationships through outreach, project consultations and membership on advisory groups.
The LCO’s challenges are both external and internal. They are not all unique to the LCO or even to law commissions generally, but affect many small non-profit organizations.
Outreach: The LCO is committed to involving Ontarians from across the province in its work, attempting to do so through advisory group membership, widespread consultation, general in-person outreach in different communities, the posting of its documents on the LCO website, coupled with dissemination to a data base of more than 3,000 organizations and individuals and the composition of the Board of Governors, the Community Council and the Law School Research and Liaison Group. Nevertheless, Ontario is a vast province marked by pluralism and the LCO needs to increase its efforts to develop its profile and visibility outside southern Ontario.
Community expectations: These are created by the very activities that attract legal and community groups’ interest and response to the LCO. For example, some groups which have been part of outreach may subsequently not see their interests reflected in the LCO’s project agenda and consultations can lead to expectations that the views expressed will be adopted by the LCO when they may not be. The LCO needs to be cognizant of the possibility of raised expectations and to ensure that it maintains contact with those who have expressed interest in the LCO’s work and to address organizations’ views in the relevant discussion documents or reports, even if they are not accepted.
Staffing: In this regard, challenges arise from the LCO’s status as a small organization, in part reliant on secondments, and from an ambitious and complex agenda. While the secondments from the Ministry of the Attorney General have been very effective, turnover is built into the process and it is almost impossible to complete a project within the term of a secondment. The impact of this may be reduced by assigning only smaller projects to MAG counsel in residence or in building the transition period from one counsel to another into the planning for the project. Given the small staff complement, if a lawyer leaves, it can delay the progress of a project considerably. Preferably, in addition to the project head, a second lawyer who is sufficiently expert in a project would be available to assume responsibility or to continue the project until a replacement is found, but this is not currently feasible without reducing the number of projects. A second issue that arises with a small staff complement is that staff members, particularly administrative staff, must be prepared to juggle a wide variety of tasks. From time to time, it is possible to alleviate the workload by hiring someone to carry out a particular task or to seek assistance from another organization participating in the same event.
Relations with government: The relationship with government is a complex one for any law commission. Law commissions rely on various government ministries for information relevant for effective recommendations and for support for their recommendations. It is crucial to a law reform agency to hear from government, to consider government experience with a particular issue and to take government realities into account in making recommendations. For the relationship to be effective, each of government and the law reform agency need to develop a relationship based on trust and the recognition of their different, albeit complementary, roles in the law reform process. The LCO and the Ministry of the Attorney General have developed an effective working relationship that neither takes for granted.
Translation and accommodation costs: These costs have the potential to be extensive. The LCO releases all documents in English and French and its website is in both languages. French translation costs can be high. Other forms of translation or interpretation may be required for consultations or for other purposes. These costs must be taken into account in determining the extent of the LCO’s work and alternative methods of meeting the goals of translation and interpretation must be considered.
Economic situation: This is a challenge for nearly all organizations today. The LCO has been renewed for a second mandate with increased funding. The LCO must be attuned to how its funders’ own economic situation is affected by economic realities. It must also consider ways in which its own funding can be increased in value through partnerships or collaborations with other organizations that do not impair its independence and impartiality, but which promote goals such as an enhanced presence for the LCO in the community and the development of mutually effective relationships with other bodies and organizations.
The interest in the LCO, the credibility it has achieved and its own sense of identity developed during the first mandate have provided a foundation on which to build over the next five years that will allow the LCO to pursue the following opportunities:
Building on the substantive and law reform process expertise gained during the first mandate: Over the past three and half years by undertaking a range of projects from small legislative projects to larger “law in context” projects, the LCO has developed increasing expertise in shaping projects, preparing documents, working with advisory groups, consultation, collaboration and organizing symposia and other events. The LCO will take the lessons learned into the future to ensure a workable mix of projects that take advantage of the LCO’s expertise and distinctive approach without placing too high a burden on legal and administrative staff, reflect the different objectives of law reform, are amenable to innovation in approach and involve consultations designed for the project. The LCO will be pro-active in exploring efficiencies in its operations without sacrificing quality.
Enhancing the dialogue with government: The LCO and MAG have a very good relationship. Through outreach and the projects, relationships have begun with other ministries that can be enhanced in the future.
Collaborating with other organizations: The LCO has co-organized conferences and partnered with organizations such as community legal clinics and community-based organizations to carry out consultations. To the extent feasible, it will increase the extent it does so as a way of reinforcing and establishing relationships, as well as undertaking these activities more efficiently. It is open to different ways this collaboration might occur, within parameters that recognize the importance of the LCO’s independence and impartiality.
Reinforcing a distinctive role as a law reform commission: This distinctive role is manifested in the types of projects the LCO undertakes, its extensive consultation methods and the non-project activities in which it engages.
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