Unified family courts will increase access to justice for everyone

  • January 29, 2018

It’s a common refrain – the federal government needs to move on filling the country’s judicial vacancies – a total of 63 as of Dec. 1, 2017.

But filling the vacancies isn’t all it will take to improve access to justice and reduce the burden on criminal and civil courts in this country.

CBA President Kerry Simmons and OBA President Quinn Ross wrote to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould in January to urge the federal government to fill the vacancies as quickly as possible, but also to act on another directive in her mandate letter, i.e., to undertake efforts to create a unified family court.

The fallout from the Jordan decision has placed an increasing burden on the justice system as a whole, including family and civil justice.

“The strain on the civil justice system has lengthened wait times for procedural steps and trials, which in turn frustrates access to justice for families, businesses and individuals,” the letter says. “People with matters before the court are dealing with issues of vital importance in their everyday lives. The timely adjudication of criminal, civil (including commercial and estates matters) and family proceedings is central to a functioning justice system. Currently, timely adjudication is not occurring.”

The 2017 budget called for the creation of 28 new judicial positions, which the letter notes is “a significant step in the right direction,” but more is needed to address the problem. That’s where unified family courts, which are a top priority for the CBA’s Family Law Section, come in.

Ontario has put forth a proposal to expand the province’s Unified Family Court by 2025, with an immediate expansion to eight new sites.

“Forty years after it was first introduced in Hamilton, the merits of the UFC model are clear: it provides family law participants with a single court/venue to resolve their proceedings, thereby reducing duplication, confusion and delay, while eliminating conflicts of jurisdiction and multiplicity of litigation.”

Increasing the number of unified family courts in Ontario would require ongoing increases to the complement of federally appointed judges over the next few years,” the letter says. “On the other hand, “efficiencies realized in the family law system can be reasonably expected to reduce strains on the civil and criminal docket.”

Read the CBA-BC letter to Minister Raybould on this topic.

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