What Gets Measured Gets Done
The Goal: By June 3, 2019, the access to justice crisis in family law is substantially solved. At least 80% of families using the family justice system in Ontario will have a faster, simpler, and more affordable alternative available to them to resolve their separation issues.
First, we want to thank all those who dedicate their professional lives to helping those in the difficult and stressful situation of family breakup. Whether Judges, lawyers, professionals of all descriptions, community agency workers, staff, friends, family or others, your dedication and commitment has helped so many in need.
We have an access to justice crisis in family law. For decades, countless conferences, papers, money, resources, and initiatives have been dedicated to address it. Yet, we appear to be no closer to, and in some ways further from, a resolution. The system that has been created, for all the right reasons and with the best of intentions, is too slow, complex and expensive for too many Ontarians.
It’s time to take a different approach. The thinking that got us to where we are is not the thinking that will get us to where we need to be (thanks Einstein).
Four Point Plan: We propose a 4 point plan to achieve the goal. We are hoping to accelerate the resolution of the crisis, not take it over! Solving the crisis will take all, in particular those who control part of the existing system. We encourage comments, suggestions, additions, and criticism that will help Ontarians to get access to the family justice system they need.
1. Date for Success: What gets measured gets done. No date has been set by Governments, the Judiciary, or the Law Society of Ontario for the resolution of the A2J crisis. A date brings urgency, and accountability.
Action: June 3, 2019. The A2J crisis must be ‘substantially solved’. Why June 3, 2019? Why not? It is also 1 year from the Family Law Innovation Conference where those advancing A2J around the world will be sharing their initiatives. Earlier is better. What does that look like? Start by establishing:
2. Measures of Success: There do not appear to be agreed measures of success. Proposed solutions have been advanced without much evidence that they will advance A2J, solve all or part of the crisis, or would do so cost effectively.
Action: Establish measures of success. Start with: faster, simpler and more affordable. Build from there.
3. Means to Achieve Success: How to achieve success? Start with the better use of resources, not more. Ontarians should have better access to the system they already pay for.
Action: The single most important step that could be taken to improve A2J and resolve the family law crisis would be to streamline the system. Every Ontarian would be helped. There are many ways to do this, both inside and out of court. To start the streamlining:
1. Information: online, up front, easy to understand, and free for all whether litigants or not
2. Triage every case, by a judge (preferably), at the time of, or before it’s filed
3. Fast-track those cases that can be resolved quickly.
We are working on part of this with our Portal. We can’t control what happens in court. There are a number of initiatives completed, underway or announced by others. Collectively, however, they are a long way from providing A2J for Ontarians. We will be reporting on how the promising ones are/might advance A2J over the coming months.
4. Transparency: Who suffers when the system is not what it should be? About 300,000 Ontarians are directly involved in the family justice system every year, we think! We don’t know exactly, (this number is based on old federal reports) because not all statistics are available. The OCJ stats are online. The SCJ stats-well, we can’t find them.
Action: Publish real-time statistics. For example, how many cases, what type, by court and region, how many are resolved each year, what is the age of the case. An open, transparent system is the foundation for better access to justice.
Next Steps: Ontarians need your help. They need justice, and a system that delivers what they need, in the way they need it, and that is understandable and accessible to all.
About 300,000 Ontarians are in the formal family justice system every year (That does not include those who deal with their family issues outside of the formal process, or the many who can’t access it or are too intimidated to use it). They all have families, friends, supporters and employers who are touched by these proceedings. There could be up to 1 million Ontarians affected every year by a family justice system that does not work as well as it could, and should. They are Ontarians from all walks of life, all parts of the province, and all income levels. They are the poorest, the richest, and the middle class. They are people who need better. We can do better. We must do better.
Let’s work together to solve this crisis.