Desperate times call for desperate measures, says law professor Julie Macfarlane, and so a project she heads has launched a petition campaign to mobilize public support for allowing paralegals to represent clients in Ontario’s family courts.
The National Self-Represented Litigants Project is responding to a review of family legal services by Justice Annemarie Bonkalo for the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney-General and the Law Society of Upper Canada. Noting that more than half of the parties in the province’s family court appear without a lawyer, her report recommends licensing paralegals to provide legal services for some family cases.
Dayna Cornwall, co-ordinator of the National Self-Represented Litigants Project, calls the proposal a “huge step forward for access to justice in Ontario,” since paralegals charge “much more affordable” rates than lawyers.
“This is an extremely important access to justice issue for Canadians,” Cornwall says. “The majority of us cannot afford full representation by a lawyer for any length of time, which is why 57 per cent of family litigants across Ontario are self-represented.”
Opposition from the legal establishment has prompted the petition, Dr. Macfarlane says, adding that the project is not usually in the petitions business.
“We are extremely concerned that the legal profession will circle the wagons and succeed in rejecting this reasonable proposal which offers more affordable options to family litigants in Ontario,” she says.
The petition, entitled “Access to Justice Crisis: Let Paralegals Represent Ontarians in Family Court,” is addressed to attorney general Yasir Naqvi and law society treasurer Paul Schabas. The ministry has invited public feedback on the review until May 15.