Tuesday, February 05, 2008

An Update on the Shortage of Judges in Ontario Family Court

We have previously commented on “chaos days” in the Newmarket family court as a result of the shortage of judges in Ontario family courts, and as an update, the County and District Law Presidents Association (CDLPA) will soon be releasing the results of surveys completed by various practitioners across Ontario “on the issue of judicial resources in family, civil and criminal law” to both levels of government. The conclusion of the information gathered by these surveys is abundantly clear: more Ontario family law judges are required now.

Law Times reports:

CDLPA says since it carried out a survey in 2005 — which found, in one-third of counties, wait times for case conferences averaged at least two months, and as many as five or six months in Essex — the delays experienced in Essex have been significantly reduced.

However, the association notes, “The situation has deteriorated in Peel, Algoma, and Sudbury, where delays of four to five months on average to secure a case conference are being reported.” CDLPA says its position is that a reasonable time frame for scheduling such conferences should average no more than three to four weeks.

“The County and District Law Presidents Association has been troubled by the increase in the past few years of anecdotal indications of delays in the family courts stemming in whole or in part from a lack of judicial resources,” says the association.
The family law section of the Ontario Bar Association has been trying to lobby both the federal and provincial governments to deal with the issue of judicial resources, says section chair Tom Dart, as those within the section sense that the commitment to the family court has either “disappeared or been put on a back burner somewhere.

...Ontario Attorney General Chris Bentley tells Law Times both he and former attorney general Michael Bryant have asked the federal government for 12 additional family court judges to be appointed, as well as additional Superior Court judges, as the unified family court does not cover the whole province. He said Bryant had been asking for four years.

The fact that the family court is split between different levels of court in the province, which can be a challenge for members of the public, is also something that Bentley says he would like to be able to address with the federal government in the not-too-distant future.

While he’s touring the province, meeting with members of the bar with regard to the recently released Civil Justice Reform Project report, Bentley notes that he is also hearing from lawyers about issues related to family and criminal law, on which he is looking forward to input, he says.
“In the meantime, [there is] something the federal government could do to make a substantial difference in many regions of this province, and that’s by appointing more judges as quickly as possible,” he says.

...As an example, Dart says there is currently a five-month delay in processing uncontested divorces and case conferences are being booked four months in advance.

CDLPA notes comments from its latest survey continue to indicate that “where judges are limited in the available time to conduct conferences due to other commitments, the quality of the conferences is adversely affected.”

Almost all responses CDLPA received indicate child-protection matters aren’t completed within time frames required under Family Law Rules, says the association.
I repeat and emphasize Garry’s previous comment on this matter: “It is time for action by the federal government”.

- Annie Noa Kenet, Toronto

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