Paralegals in family courts not the solution

Pamela Cross and Amanda Dale respond to the recent report by Justice Bonkalo, Family Legal Services Review. Although they applaud the effort, there is a “fatal flaw” in the report — a lack of understanding of the impact of violence in family court decisions.

Cases involving violence within the family make up a significant percentage of all of Ontario’s family court cases. While precise numbers are impossible to find, Bonkalo’s report notes that in 2014/2015 almost 50 per cent — 13,196 of the 30,195 cases — legal aid family law certificates issued were for domestic violence clients.

How then did not one of the 21 recommendations in Justice Bonkalo’s report speak to this high risk reality? Instead, the report recommends that mandatory training for paralegals who do family court work include, among other topics, the issue of gender-based violence. This is simply not enough.

Why did the provincially funded Family Court Support Worker Program for victims of domestic violence not get more than a nod? Unlike paralegal services, they are accessible to those unable to pay. With adequate resourcing, Family Court Support Workers could take on many of the legal services the report proposes for paralegals and could bring an expertise on the issue of violence against women that is badly needed.

The report’s recommendation that paralegals be permitted to provide legal services with respect to custody and access reveals a weak understanding of the complexities on the ground. Decades of reports from the Coroner’s Office of Ontario, testify to this being the linchpin in women’s risk for deadly outcomes.

Read the full article in The Star.

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