New Family Justice Centre aims to virtually address inequity in access to family justice system

Family lawyers and students will offer free legal services to low-income litigants online

New Family Justice Centre aims to virtually address inequity in access to family justice system

Pro Bono Students Canada will virtually open the Family Justice Centre in Fall 2020.

With the use of videoconferencing technology, family lawyers in private practice and upper-year law students will furnish free legal services to low-income, self-represented family law litigants in Ontario.

“Operating virtually allows us to expand our reach and serve clients from anywhere in Ontario, including from remote and previously under-served areas, where the justice gap is often most prevalent,” said Brittany Twiss, national director of Pro Bono Students Canada.

Volunteering lawyers will deliver summary legal advice to these clients and will supervise the law students as they draft court documents. Eight part-time law students, whose employment will be funded by Legal Aid Ontario, will create public legal education materials and will organize virtual legal clinics.

The justice centre seeks to address the inequity in access to the family justice system, characterized as a “substantial and long-standing disparity” in the news release. Around 80 per cent of litigants in certain jurisdictions are self-represented when they begin the litigation, stated the news release.

According to the news release, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including court closures and the resulting case backlogs, have worsened this inequity. The COVID-19-related job terminations and income losses have also impacted litigants’ ability to pay for legal services, said the news release.

“The Family Justice Centre is an innovative response to a complex and enduring set of barriers faced by low-income family law litigants,” said Edward Iacobucci, dean of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law and board chairperson of Pro Bono Students Canada.

Epstein Cole LLP, founding partner of the justice centre, donated $150,000 to the initiative. Pro Bono Students Canada and Epstein Cole will connect with private family lawyers and firms over the next few weeks to urge them to volunteer at the justice centre. They also hope to eventually expand to in-person services, when permitted by public health directives.

“Volunteering with the FJC is an opportunity for family law lawyers and law students from across Ontario to address the perennial family justice crisis on more than one front,” said Roslyn Tsao, managing partner at Epstein Cole.

Pro Bono Students Canada plans to collaborate with community and other organizations to offer technological and other supports to clients and their families.

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