Ontario’s regulator for lawyers and paralegals has voted in favour of developing a special licence that would initially support training for paralegals and others in navigating the family court process.
A report by Annemarie Bonkalo, a former chief justice of the Ontario Court of Justice, said that 57 per cent of Ontarians did not have legal representation in family court. She said opening the system to paralegals "would provide a greater choice." (TIM FRASER / FOR THE LAW SOCIETY OF UPPER CANADA)
Paralegals are a step closer to being permitted to offer at least some family law legal services, as the number of Ontarians who represent themselves in family court soars.The Law Society of Ontario, which regulates both lawyers and paralegals, voted on Dec. 1 on a commitment to develop a special licence that would initially support training for paralegals and others in navigating the family court process, completing forms, and possibly other areas outside the courtroom.The commitment, part of a joint action plan with the Ministry of the Attorney General, would also “assess what additional family legal services by providers other than lawyers, including advocacy, are in the public interest,” meaning whether paralegals would also be allowed to appear in family court, according to the law society’s access to justice committee.Details remain vague, with the chair of the committee pointing out in an interview with the Star that planning is still in the early stages, and will include engaging family law specialists to provide input on training, as well as consulting with lawyers and others.“We’re not setting a timeline. As soon as you set a timeline, you’re working toward a deadline that would be artificial,” chair and lawyer Howard Goldblatt said. “We’re going to be moving purposefully forward, and we’ll be reporting both to our committee and to convocation (law society board meeting) and to stakeholders as we proceed.”Allowing paralegals to offer family legal services and eventually appear in family court in the Ontario Court of Justice, where they are currently barred, has proven to be one of the most contentious legal issues in Ontario in recent years.The Family Lawyers Association, as well as a number of family court judges, have come out strongly against the idea, which gained momentum last year following a report from the former chief justice of the Ontario Court of Justice.Justice Annemarie Bonkalo had been tasked by the government and law society to study the issue of the provision of legal services in family law by people other than lawyers. According to the report, 57 per cent of Ontarians did not have legal representation in family court in 2014-15