Report to Supreme Court chief justice calls for family law overhaul

Article by KIRK MAKIN
Published in the Globe & Mail

An unreleased report commissioned by the country’s top judge is urging a radical overhaul of Canada’s family law system.

The report to Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, scheduled for release next month, calls for restructuring the family law system from the ground up, with a focus on streamlining the court process and ending a fixation on combat.

The report, from a committee headed by Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell, goes on to make more than two dozen recommendations, including the creation of specialized judges who can shepherd a family law dispute from beginning to end.

The family law system has been under attack for much of the past two or three decades over litigation that drags out and the destructive effect of the adversarial process on couples who are vulnerable and prone to go on the attack. And the inordinate costs of litigation have led to a massive increase in the number of litigants who represent themselves – now as much as 70 or 80 per cent.

A copy of the report, obtained by The Globe and Mail, says that estranged spouses and their children are seriously damaged by the adversarial system; and that judges, lawyers and law schools must embrace a culture of mediation and settlement.

The ground-breaking report also recommends the imposition of painful cost awards against litigants who behave badly or impede settlements.

It says that law schools have to stop minimizing the importance of family law in their curricula and that legal aid for family law cases must be sharply increased.

“Cuts to family legal aid have a disproportionate effect on women and children, particularly those who are most vulnerable – e.g. aboriginal, immigrant and disabled women,” the report notes. “Even middle-income levels typically cannot support the cost of any significant amount of legal representation.”

The report also recommends the creation of unified family court branches across the country to provide one-stop shopping for litigants who must currently navigate between the provincial and federal court systems.

Chief Justice McLachlin struck the committee out of concern that justice is fast becoming inaccessible to a vast proportion of the country. She asked her Supreme Court colleague, Mr. Justice Thomas Cromwell, to head the group – known as the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. Judge Cromwell is expected to unveil the report and its 31 recommendations next month.

Another of the report’s recommendations urges that estranged spouses be forced to attend one session with a qualified professional mediator before they are permitted to proceed toward a trial…..

Read full article at the globe and mail…