FOLA raises multiple issues impacting justice system at annual Queen’s Park lobby day

By Amanda Jerome

Law360 Canada (March 8, 2023, 12:30 PM EST) -- The Federation of Ontario Law Associations (FOLA) held its annual Queen’s Park lobby day on March 7, raising multiple issues impacting the justice system, including “Legal Aid, family law, courthouse issues and modernization, criminal law, real estate law, and more.”

According to FOLA, “approximately 50 practicing lawyers from every region in the province took part in this virtual event, spending the day meeting with government and opposition MPPs and ministerial staff.”

Douglas Judson, FOLA’s chair, brought up courthouse issues and modernization, noting that “due in large part to the pandemic, Ontario’s courts have adopted new online tools and solution that have benefited our justice system.”

Douglas Judson, Federation of Ontario Law Associations

Douglas Judson, Federation of Ontario Law Associations

“That progress must be celebrated and accelerated. One growing pain we are now faced with is that different courts, jurisdictions, and judges are using these technologies differently, but access to justice requires standardization,” he added in a statement, noting that FOLA has “called on the Attorney General to help push the adoption of some universal standards for technology use in different types of court sittings and processes.”

Terry Brandon, FOLA’s Legal Aid Committee chair, addressed legal aid as well as criminal law and bail reforms.

“FOLA reiterated its request from our recent budget submission that the province increase legal aid funding from $350 million to $480 million annually,” she said, noting that “support is desperately needed for legal services that contribute to Ontario’s commitment to equality, fairness, and overall access to justice.”

“Legal Aid Ontario is not sustainable on the present trajectory. The fact that we are asking for the government to match funding at the 2014 budget clearly demonstrates how poorly funded the system is at present, especially when you account for inflation over the past decade,” she added in a statement, stressing that “we are approaching a point where it is not going to be viable for lawyers to practise at legal aid’s rates, which is going to worsen the access to justice crisis in Ontario for low-income and marginalized people.”

In regard to bail reform, Brandon noted that “FOLA has reminded the government that bail procedures are codified in federal legislation.”

“The bar has spoken with one voice to underscore the presumption of innocence in our criminal justice system and the Charter right to reasonable bail,” she emphasized.

With regards to real estate, Mark Giavedoni, FOLA’s Real Estate Committee chair, noted that FOLA has “reminded the government that delays in the justice system aren’t confined to trials.”

“Anyone who has entered into a real estate transaction over the past few years know this all too well. With the government placing huge importance on affordable housing and commercial development in recent years, FOLA is calling on the government to commit to investing its revenues collected from sources such as Land Transfer Taxes back into the system to help staff and support the infrastructure necessary to provide these services to the public,” he said, stressing that “this can help speed up processing, accuracy in the system and avoid undue and costly delays.”

FOLA also emphasized issues in family law, with Laura Oliver and Logan Rathbone, co-chairs of the Family Law Committee, highlighting expansion of the Unified Family Court.

“Today FOLA again pressed the government to continue the expansion of the Dispute Resolution Officer [DRO] Program throughout the province and speed up the expansion of the Unified Family Court. Family law matters take up a significant amount of court time and use a great deal of the available judicial resources. The DRO program, which allows senior family law practitioners to hold conferences and ensure files are ready for judicial intervention, represent a tremendous untapped resource for jurisdictions that do not yet have use of the program,” said Oliver in a statement.

“The Unified Family Court allows for specialist judges to deal with family law matters under the case management approach provided for in the Family Law Rules. This approach allows judges to deal with matters on a continuum rather than on a ‘one off’ basis,” Rathbone added.

According to FOLA, lobby day participants “heard from Attorney General Doug Downey, MPP (Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte), the NDP critic for the attorney general, Kristyn Wong-Tam, MPP (Toronto Centre), the parliamentary assistant to the president of the Treasury Board, Todd McCarthy, MPP (Durham) and the minister for francophone affairs, Caroline Mulroney, MPP (York-Simcoe)” and “approximately 30 participants were also able to arrange for about 20 one-on-one meetings with their individual MPPs.”

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