LCO calls for evaluation of family law information centres

While the Ontario government has heralded reforms to streamline the family law system, a new Law Commission of Ontario interim report is calling for additional measures.

In its interim report on the family law system, the commission emphasizes the need for litigants, particularly self-represented people, to access information on the process. The government, of course, has already been making efforts in that regard through its family law information centres in courthouses. But the report cast some doubt on whether that’s the best strategy.

“Their location at the courthouses raises concerns about their accessibility for users who may find the justice system intimidating,” the report noted. “We recommend an evaluation of the FLICs as the entry point for the family justice system.”

To address the concern, the report recommends creating a basic brochure for distribution at “strategic places,” such as libraries, doctors’ offices, supermarkets, and law firms. In addition, given the plethora of web sites with legal information, the report suggests creating what it says would be a neutral information hub.

At the same time, the commission addressed the need for more comprehensive face-to-face services given that legal clinics typically don’t provide family law services. As a result, it recommends providing some hours of subsidized legal advice to local-income people.

In rural areas with shortages of legal services, it suggests placing legal aid lawyers in community centres or providing subsidies to legal clinics to offer advice on family law.

In total, the commission made 39 recommendations for improving the family law system.

On the subject of alternative dispute resolution, it suggested funding a court-wide system of dispute resolution officers as well as providing legal aid certificates to low-income people who use non-judicial options.

The commission is running consultations on the interim report until April 30 in anticipation of producing a final report later this year.

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