The LCO recommends that:
1. The Ministry of the Attorney General, in consultation with Legal Aid Ontario and CLEO, arrange for the preparation of plain language, colourful brochures or even single page handouts in different languages, and arrange for their distribution in locations where people worrying about their family problems are most likely to see them, such as doctors’ offices, YWCA/YMCAs, libraries, community centres and supermarkets and other similar locations.
2. The Law Society of Upper Canada and mediators’ organizations promote the distribution of brochures with basic information and the referral to wider service family services through lawyers and members of the mediators’ organizations respectively.
3. The Ministry of the Attorney General and other relevant ministries, including the Ministry of Community and Social Services, the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, the Ministry of Francophone Affairs, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, and also including the Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat and the Ontario Women’s Directorate, provide financial and other resources for initiatives that focus on the role of community organizations in the provision of early information, referrals and personal assistance for persons in a situation of family breakdown through needs assessments in a community; and where demands warrant this, the training and education of frontline service providers, the creation of a legal telephone information centre for frontline workers and/or the creation of a database with basic legal and referral information for frontline workers.
4. The Ministry of the Attorney General, in consultation with appropriate organizations, in particular Legal Aid Ontario and CLEO, develop a single online hub of plain language information about the legal process and options and availability of specialized services; develop a strategy to advertise the single online hub; and develop a strategy to give children of various ages specific information, including through online interactive methods.
5. (a) The Ministry of the Attorney General undertake a review of the Family Law Information Centres within three years in order to determine the frequency of use and how effectively they have disseminated information and advice; and
(b) based on the results of the review make appropriate changes as necessary.
6. (a) Legal Aid Ontario establish basic legal information and advice services in areas or communities which are not adequately serviced by legal aid lawyers or other services, for example by placing Legal Aid lawyers in community centres or legal clinics which are funded to provide early summary legal advice in family matters;
(b) LAO make Legal Aid certificates available to low income persons in low conflict situations so that they can negotiate an agreement.
7. During their legal education and training during law school and through the licensing examinations, future lawyers be advised and tested about the particular risks associated with limited scope retainers and the ways to address them.
8. (a) The Law Society of Upper Canada consider whether to require lawyers to have practised family law for two years before offering limited scope retainers.
(b)The Law Society of Upper Canada provide and advertise mentoring advice for lawyers offering limited scope retainers in family law.
(c) The Law Society of Upper Canada, in consultation with the Courts and other relevant organizations, conduct a study of the effectiveness of, and challenges with respect to, limited scope retainers in family law with the objective of minimizing the difficulties associated with such retainers.
9. The Ministry of the Attorney General, Legal Aid Ontario and the Law Society of Upper Canada, in consultation with other relevant organizations, study how self-help materials in combination with face to face personal assistance and/or telephone or online assistance, provided by lawyers, legal aid lawyers or court staff can achieve access to justice for low and middle income persons.
10. CLEO be funded by Legal Aid Ontario and the Law Society of Upper Canada to prepare plain language brochures explaining the options available to unrepresented litigants, including limited scope retainers, and pro bono services if Pro Bono Ontario is funded to facilitate pro bono family services (see recommendation 12).
11. Family lawyers post information about costs on their websites, including any initial consultation fee, retainers and hourly rates, and whether they offer free legal services or accept a legal aid certificate.
12. (a) Pro Bono Law Ontario be funded by Legal Aid Ontario and the Law Foundation of Ontario to permit it to facilitate pro bono services in family law.
(b) Lawyers engaged in providing pro bono legal services be advised about the increased risks from limited representation and responses to address these risks prior to providing the pro bono services.
(c) Pro bono lawyers and organizations involved in the provision of pro bono services establish a gateway and a transparent system for directing persons to pro bono lawyers, based on users’ needs.
13. The Law Society of Upper Canada review the scope of practice for paralegals with the objective of identifying those areas of the family legal system to which paralegals can contribute to increase access to justice;
14. (a) If paralegals are allowed to offer services in the field of family justice, their education must include the necessary training to ensure that they provide legal services competently.
(b) To the extent paralegals offer a limited scope retainer, the same recommendations applying to lawyers, should apply to paralegals as appropriately modified (see recommendations 7 and 8).
The LCO endorses:
15. The proposal by Home Court Advantage that Ontario law school clinics and legal services provide (further) assistance in family law.
The LCO recommends that:
16. Legal Aid Ontario explore how providing proportional legal aid services to different user groups can widen the scope of legal aid; explore how these services can be allocated to a person with a minimum of intake moments and duplications, using a triage approach; explore how the delivery of multiple legal aid services can take Ontario’s pluralism into account in the legal aid assessments and triages, the referral to, and recruitment of, service providers with specific community expertise, and the development of materials and methods;
17. Legal Aid reserve funding for legal aid certificates in cases of hardship for a user who is otherwise not eligible for legal aid, in particular persons with special needs or elderly persons with a low income and a house ownership.
18. Legal aid certificates be made available to low income persons who use non-judicial dispute resolution, including in more “complex” cases, so that they can obtain, if needed, more extensive independent legal advice.
19. During their legal education and training during law school and through the licensing examinations, future lawyers be advised and tested about a role in non-judicial dispute resolution led by non-lawyers.
20. The Province fund a court-wide system of Dispute Resolution Officers.
21. (a) The Ministry of the Attorney General and the courts study the potential role of mental health experts, to assist judges in the effective management of family law cases; and,
(b) if the study shows it would be helpful to heave mental health expertise available in family court, to provide adequate funding for this assistance.
22. The Attorney General, Legal Aid, the Law Society of Upper Canada, mediator organizations, the courts and CLEO and FLEW and other relevant organizations:
a. evaluate at regular intervals if entry point services and early responses of the family justice services sufficiently address specific needs that exist in a community or the province, because of factors such as language, literacy, age, sexuality, culture, disability or being Deaf, deafened or hard of hearing, in particular with respect to access to basic and, where suitable, more in-depth information for persons with specific needs; and
b. adjust or strengthen the services, if needed.
23. The Ministry of the Attorney General give priority to the provision of “long distance” family law services through videoconferencing, digital files and, where local demand warrants this, the promotion of mobile services.
24. Legal Aid Ontario give persons in rural and remote areas for whom there is limited access to face to face summary legal advice or independent legal advice wider access to telephone advice services, (wider) access to online advice, for example through Skype and chat services, and, if needed, the assistance of trusted intermediaries.
25. The Law Society of Upper Canada and mediator organizations promote the delivery of online services among lawyers and mediators for persons in rural and remote areas.
26. The Ministry of the Attorney General, in consultation with band and other organizations such as the Ontario Native Women’s Association, and other relevant ministries, including the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and the Aboriginal Advisor to the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, give priority to traditional methods of dispute resolution, including through adequate funding for the education of the providers of family group Conferencing and Original Dispute Resolution.
27. The Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Aid Ontario undertake a study with the objective of establishing a comprehensive system of “multi-disciplinary multi-function centres”, located in the community, and possibly connected to community centres, that can serve as the initial source of information and guidance in family law matters and related matters. These should
a. be staffed by paralegal, a mental health specialist and one (family law) lawyer;
b. have easy access to experts such as financial experts and social workers, and lawyers in areas other than family law that might be relevant to a family dispute;
c. where possible, be staffed by workers who are reflective of the demographic makeup of the surrounding community; and
d. be supported by family law experts and a database on family law.
28. The relevant ministries dealing with family services in Ontario’s pluralist context, establish a Steering Committee in order to develop a consistent strategy for the delivery of family service for persons facing a situation of family breakdown, including persons who can be particularly vulnerable because of language, literacy, age, sexuality, culture, disability or being Deaf, deafened or hard of hearing.
In particular we recommend that the Steering Committee explore:
a. how legal and non-legal family services in large and mid-size centres in Ontario can be connected, and provide diversity of resources or easy access to resources to individuals with diverse family problems; and
b. how legal and non-legal family services can be delivered in rural and remote areas, including:
i. the services that could be provided through mobile services;
ii. the involvement of community workers as appropriate for the locations visited; and
iii. the use of technology to supplement in-person resources.
29. The Ministry of the Attorney General take the lead in an inter-ministerial and cross-sectoral initiative to develop an online portal for families in Ontario which, by itself or in combination with specific websites, gives access to information on a broad range of family issues, including legal issues. The portal should function as the main entry point for all family services, and with related sites it needs to give information to a wide group of users, including those belonging to communities with specific information needs and challenges, and community service providers assisting these users. The information should address all stages of a family breakdown and the resolution of a family dispute. The information should include information on local and regional service providers.
30. The Ministry of the Attorney General, in consultation with CLEO, and Legal Aid Ontario expand and develop online tools for parenting and separation or divorce agreements which include calculation models, formats for agreements and an explanation of legal concepts in order to assist couples and their legal advisors in reaching an early resolution for family legal challenges and disputes. These can be offered through the main portal or a specific website with legal information.
31. The Ministry of the Attorney General establish a triage system to be implemented at the multi-disciplinary multi-function centre preliminary to families entering the court system in order to address particular needs of families and direct these families to the most appropriate form of dispute resolution. The person(s) performing the triage should have expertise in family matters in addition to legal expertise and assess many factors, such as the role of extended family members and the complexity of a legal or family dispute, including other problems such as financial or psychological, in addition to domestic violence or other forms of “high conflict”.
32. The Ministry of the Attorney General fund a function akin to Dispute Resolution Officers in the Superior Court who can assist the parties in achieving the early resolution of some or all of the issues in a dispute.
33. The Steering Group (see recommendation 28) expore ways in which to:
a. Strengthen existing multi-disciplinary services and promote the creation of new multi-disciplinary services, where local demand warrants this, by allocating funding, facilitating the exchange of information within these services, by promoting good practices and by raising awareness among users and workers in the respective family services so that users find these services.
b. Promote the incorporation of pluralism in the local delivery of multi-disciplinary services by involving representatives of communities that are served by the centres.
34. The Ministry of the Attorney General provide funding to Legal Aid Ontario to give greater access to legal aid services in individual cases, based on a persons’ legal needs, both in the area of family law and other areas of law which affect families.
35. Legal Aid Ontario, in cooperation with the Attorney General, the Law Society of Upper Canada, and the Courts set annual eligibility cut-offs, based on cost of living and cost of legal fees, and caps for legal aid, which are adequate to give access to proportional legal aid services.
36. Legal Aid Ontario, in cooperation with Family Courts, the Law Society of Upper Canada, community legal clinics and community organizations, develop criteria for a legal aid triage to “proportional” legal aid services for persons in a situation of family breakdown.
37. The Province continue to work with the federal government to establish Unified Family Courts throughout Ontario.
38. The courts make every effort to ensure that, after a settlement conference, if any, one judge is responsible for adjudicating a family’s litigation.
39. The Ministry of the Attorney General, the Law Society of Upper Canada and Legal Aid Ontario, and other organizations with particular relevant expertise, undertake a study of the family legal system with the objective of developing reforms that will respond the needs of users by systematically collecting data about:
a. the Family Law Information Centres with respect to users, services and outcomes for users;
b. court users, process and outcomes;
c. the effectiveness of subsidized mediation;
d. the use of self-help materials; and
e. the experience with limited scope retainers in family law.
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