Ontario's strapped legal aid system will get a $150 million boost – with a "significant" portion of the new money aimed at driving ambitious family court changes designed to put the interests of children first.
Nearly 70 per cent of family legal aid cases involve women living below the poverty line. The $150 million will help ensure that the poorest Ontarians gain greater access to the justice system, Attorney General Chris Bentley said in an interview yesterday.
The government will provide more details of how the $150 million will be divvied up between criminal and family courts and legal aid clinics on Tuesday.
Legal aid has been a problematic issue for the Liberals. Defence lawyers in Toronto began a boycott in June of legal aid cases, saying they weren't paid enough to handle lengthy criminal proceedings. The boycott spread to Kingston, London and Thunder Bay.
The province is also expected to use some of the new money to create a major case management office for criminal trials and introduce block fees instead of hourly rates.
"We want a seamless, integrated system of legal advice and support for people," said Bentley. "This is particularly important in the family area; we want to increase the information people get up front, and, the opportunities for people to resolve things faster and get on with their lives."
The money will flow over four years, starting with $15 million this year, $30 million next year, $45 million in 2011 and $60 million in 2012. This year's budget for legal aid was $288 million before the new money.
In the family court area, Bentley wants the money invested to achieve a faster, less confrontational, collaborative system to resolve disputes where it is appropriate. While this is aimed at helping low-income Ontarians first, he hopes the changes will also help everyone else.
"We'll establish a working advisory group to start immediately and let us know – what should the legal aid transformation look like and where should we put the additional funds?"
Bentley's office has pushed for family law reform for more than a year. Last November, the attorney general announced the first of a series of changes. They included beefed-up requirements for those seeking custody of children, and changes making it easier to obtain restraining orders.
The death of 7-year-old Katelynn Sampson last summer, allegedly at the hands of her legal guardian and her partner, drove the push to examine and toughen up child custody rules in Ontario.
The attorney general wants to minimize the occurrence of lengthy family court cases with parents pitted bitterly against each other. Bentley said he is all too aware of the cases that have made headlines regarding children caught in the middle of nasty divorces.
The law should work in the best interests of children and give "everybody more information, tools, supports and means for resolving these often very emotional issues much earlier," rather than years later when the kids have been caught in the tussle between parents, he said.
"The legal aid investment can help drive part of that," he said from his London home. "It will position us well as we engage in the broader family court initiatives."
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Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre
Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre
Supposedly, the Province of Ontario, is "toughening up the child custody
Chris Bently can start from the top down, the first thing is to make sure that the law is applied equally, that absent evidence of child protection concerns that there is a presumption that children deserve equal parenting.
Now, Bently starts with a law riddled in bias, extreme prejudice that is 99% generally why father's cant have a relationship, or why mother's should be able to have a legal advantage akin to the taliban's control over women.
Every fourth child born in Ontario has a father on the birth certificate, who does not exist or who is not the father. Yet, no DNA tests are required to name a child on a birth certificate, children apparently don't deserve to know who their father is.
Bently should then ensure that we have a Judicial Police, to make sure that the Judges of the Province are held accountable. Presently, many engage in pure fabrication of evidence and or flagrantly abuse their power to leave a trial of destroyed lives.
Women can gain custody, abuse children with impunity and if a man makes the slightest protest he runs a real risk of having draconian orders for child support on income that never existed and being treated like a dangerous offender.
Ontario Law is a war on men, its an abuse of the principles of law to the point that Justice in Ontario is less than that of justice in some of the worst third world countries.
Thanks Mr. Bently.