Ontario Improving Access to the Justice SystemPublished on February 16, 2021
New legislation will help Ontarians resolve legal matters faster
TORONTO — The Ontario government has introduced legislation that will improve access to justice for people across the system by modernizing processes and breaking down barriers in the province's courts, tribunals, estates law, family law and child protection sectors. The Accelerating Access to Justice Act, 2021, if passed, would also fill judicial vacancies faster.
"Justice accelerated is justice delivered. No matter where you live in our province, the growth and well-being of our communities demands easier and faster access to a justice system that works for people," said Attorney General Doug Downey. "The advancements we are proposing to adopt in this bill will benefit people across Ontario by saving them money and reducing the time they spend waiting for their day in court."
In response to COVID-19, Ontario implemented a number of urgent measures to move more justice services online and closer to communities. If passed, the Accelerating Access to Justice Act, 2021 would build on these modernization initiatives by:
- Helping fill judicial vacancies faster so people will be able to have their matters heard by a judge more quickly and with fewer delays. These changes would maintain current legislated qualifications to become a judge, as announced in February 2020, and reflect feedback received from justice partners and lawyers. Changes will also support broader efforts to encourage more lawyers to apply by moving the applications process online.
- Permanently allowing the virtual witnessing of wills and powers of attorney to make it easier for people to get these important affairs in order, without the limitations of travelling to access these services in-person.
- Promoting the interests of children by giving them a greater voice in the court process, and better focusing resources of the Office of the Children's Lawyer.
- Increasing access to justice in French by expanding and guaranteeing the ability of Francophones to file documents in French at all Ontario courthouses and for all matters, including civil and family law.
The province is also proposing to consolidate Ontario's Land Tribunals by merging the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, Environmental Review Tribunal, Board of Negotiation, Conservation Review Board and the Mining and Lands Tribunal into a new single tribunal called the Ontario Land Tribunal. The new Ontario Land Tribunal would make the land dispute resolution process more efficient by creating a single forum to resolve disputes faster by eliminating unnecessary overlap between cases.
"Today we introduced legislation that will transform the way Ontarians access justice in the courtroom and beyond, particularly in rural, northern, Indigenous, and Francophone communities," said Attorney General Downey. "As we continue to work together to keep Ontarians safe and support our province's recovery, we are committed to strengthening the capacity of the justice system to help communities overcome the challenges brought on by COVID-19."
"The Ontario Trial Lawyers Association (OTLA) thanks the Attorney General for his continued commitment to consult with interested legal organizations regarding issues of common concern with the justice system. We agree with the Minister that the list of judicial candidates he can consider for appointment should be expanded to a minimum of six."
- Allen Wynperle, Immediate Past President, Ontario Trial Lawyers Association
"The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners looks forward to being part of the important work that will be done to educate lawyers and other professionals on the opportunities these proposed changes present along with the obligations that are inherent in them to ensure the protection of vulnerable individuals in circumstances where they cannot be met in person."
- Elaine Blades, Chair of Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) Toronto and Paul W. Taylor, Chair of STEP Ottawa
"As a long-time advocate for changes to the Courts of Justice Act regarding bilingual proceedings, the Association of French Speaking Jurists of Ontario (AJEFO), is thrilled to learn that the provincial government is proposing amendments to allow documents written in French to be submitted without restrictions, at any time, and across the province, rather than only in certain areas."
- Marc Sauvé, AJEFO President
"Attorney General Downey continues to take decisive action to speed up and improve the experience Ontarians can expect when resolving land planning disputes in the tribunal system. This game-changing reform will help make Ontario the leader in responsible growth in Canada."
- Marie Hubbard, Executive Chair, Ontario Land Tribunals.
- The proposed changes to judicial appointments build on recent reforms in the government’s COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, 2020 to fill justice of the peace vacancies faster.