President's Message: Our Collective Voice

  • June 20, 2017
  • David Sterns

This is my final JUST. message as OBA President, so I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the Board, the OBA staff and Section Executives for their support over the course of my term. I would also like to give a special nod to those dedicated members who have contributed to our advocacy initiatives over the year and to those who have volunteered their time for education and community-based programs like Law Day and Speakers Bureau.

When I first took on the role of President, I put a stake in the ground and pledged that my term would include advocacy for the profession, and for the justice system as a whole. I said I would dedicate the year to raising the issues that affect our ability to practise efficiently and to ensuring the improvement of our justice infrastructure in this era of government cutbacks.

As many of you know, court modernization is an issue where I have been quite vocal, expressing my concern, and at times my frustration, through social and mainstream media. 

This past month we have seen court modernization advance with the launch of the first phase of the e-Filing pilot, enabling e-filing of the documents required to initiate a civil action in the Superior Court of Justice: statements of claim and notices of action, and online payment.

If you missed it, the OBA hosted a webinar with Christopher Johns, Executive Director of the Innovation Office at the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General. The webinar was instructional with respect to the roll out of the pilot project. It also included discussion about other government initiatives that are currently in development to modernize our courts.  We will continue our advocacy, and will call for accountability should feet start to drag or momentum slow. Those who have not already seen the webinar should check it out on our site.

As you know, Chief Justice Annemarie E.  Bonkalo released her report to the province and the Law Society on the delivery of family law services in March 2017. Last month, the OBA worked with members from across the province to compile a comprehensive submission that was filed with the Law Society earlier this month.  The submission emphasized that any reform in the area of family law must recognize the paramount importance of safeguarding the public interest and highlighting the critical expertise and support provided by lawyers in delivering legal advice and representation.

While the OBA fully supports some of the recommendations, the proposal that paralegals be permitted to provide unsupervised legal services in some areas of family law is not something we support. As we have heard from our members, any model for reform built on the assumption that family law can be reduced to “simple” and “complex” matters is fundamentally flawed and will put the public at risk. The OBA will continue to play a leading role in supporting those initiatives – such as unbundled legal services, legal coaching, a greater role for paralegals providing legal information, and better interdisciplinary collaboration – that will further immediate access to the justice system for families and ensure the protection of the public interest.

And finally, with R. v. Jordan having a significant impact on the criminal system, in some ways it compounds access to justice issues for a civil justice system already challenged by sharing the same limited court resources. When you consider that civil courts affect all Canadians, and are critical for a modern economy, I see this as another important advocacy priority. That is why I wrote a letter last month to Ontario’s Attorney-General the Honourable Yasir Naqvi to request a meeting to discuss civil justice reform. I am hoping to meet with him later this month to discuss this further. 

Though my term as OBA President is officially over in August, my role as an advocate for the profession and for the justice system is not. I will continue to be part of the collective voice on issues that matter to us all in the profession and in the best interests of the public.

As summer sets in, I hope everyone will take some time out to get re-charged, enjoy the outdoors, be with family and friends and enjoy this wonderful season. 

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