The Law Commission of Ontario has recently begun an initiative that is rather different from its usual projects. It is being funded by the Ontario Women’s Directorate to develop law school curriculum modules around violence (particularly domestic violence) against women. “Women” are identified as the focus of the initiative because they are still the vast majority of victims of domestic violence.
The modules would be available to law schools that wished to use them. They would be flexible enough to be integrated into an existing course, serve as a freestanding intensive program or be combined to form a full course. The idea is that all law students would learn about these issues and not only those who expect to practise family, criminal or tort law, or civil procedure. Merely identifying when domestic violence is an issue can be important for almost any area of law. Lawyers need to appreciate issues such as the complexities of relationships that influence how women respond to experiencing abuse or diversity in communities’ responses and to know about the support services available.
The OWD funded the development of curricula a decade ago and the results will be very helpful, as will curricula developed for judges and others. We do not have to reinvent the wheel. We will need to be sure that our modules are up to date and include new elements that might not have been relevant or thought about a decade ago.
The LCO has retained Pamela Cross, a consultant who is an expert in violence against women and who has worked on the development of relevant curricula for other groups. She will work with an advisory group composed of representatives from all Ontario law schools, judges, defence counsel, Crowns, service organizations, police, students, and others who will bring a range of expertise to bear on the development of the modules.
How does this kind of initiative conform to the LCO’s mandate? The LCO is concerned that the law operates effectively and in its final reports may make recommendations to private actors about actions that will achieve just that, help make the law more effective in implementation. The more lawyers are prepared to address these issues and work with clients who have experienced violence, the more effective the laws against domestic violence will be.
Patricia Hughes has been the executive director of the Law Commission of Ontario since September 15, 2007, and is an ex-officio member of the LCO board of governors. This article originally appeared on her blog.