Should paralegals be allowed into family court?
It’s one of the most divisive questions swirling through the Ontario legal community this year.
With most litigants now appearing without a lawyer for family cases in the province, a recent family law review by a former Ontario court chief justice recommends paralegals be allowed into family courtrooms on certain matters, including custody and access, simple child support cases, and restraining orders.
The recommendation has pitted many lawyers and judges, including the entire family court bench at the 311 Jarvis St. courthouse, against those who argue paralegals could possibly provide a more affordable alternative for some people who would otherwise simply show up before a judge on their own.
Public feedback on the report by ex-chief justice Annemarie Bonkalo was being accepted until this week, and the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Law Society of Upper Canada, the body that regulates both the legal and paralegal professions, are working on an action plan to be released this fall.
When the Bonkalo review was released in March, Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said, in a statement, that the government is “committed to working with our partners and the federal government to consider changes that will have a real, positive impact of people’s lives, like allowing paralegals to be trained to provide family law services.”
In an effort to mobilize public support around the paralegal recommendations, and out of a concern that the Law Society will push back against them, the National Self-Represented Litigants Project at the University of Windsor has launched a petition directed at the ministry and law society.
“The public ask us all the time, self-reps ask us all the time: why can’t we have a paralegal do our family matter? They can do small claims, immigration, traffic court, why the heck can’t they do family cases?” said project director and law professor Julie Macfarlane.