Simplifying a Complex and Outdated Justice System to Better Serve People
The Smarter and Stronger Justice Act, if passed, would simplify a complex and outdated justice system to better serve people by:
Building a flexible, sustainable and accountable legal aid system (Legal Aid Services Act)
The Legal Aid Services Act is outdated and does not reflect the type of modern and efficient legal aid system Ontarians expect.
After working closely with Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) and consulting with legal clinics, the private bar, practicing lawyers, the judiciary, front-line staff and other legal service providers, the government is proposing legislative changes that would give LAO the tools it needs to develop and implement a modern legal aid system that provides legal aid clients with seamless, sustainable and high-quality front-line services. The proposed amendments would help legal aid clients resolve their legal issues more effectively and with fewer road blocks in the process, while also ensuring sustainable and accountable funding arrangements.
The proposed changes set out in the new Legal Aid Services Act would:
- put clients at the centre of the legal aid system by allowing legal aid services to be offered by a mix of service providers, such as private practice lawyers, law firms, community legal organizations (including legal clinics) and public legal education organizations
- enhance LAO's ability to meet client needs by giving LAO greater flexibility to work with its service providers to achieve the goal of a sustainable service delivery model while safeguarding and enhancing the quality of services provided to legal aid clients
- strengthen the scope of legal aid services offered by allowing LAO to provide a variety of services to Ontarians including legal information, summary advice, alternative dispute resolution services, unbundled legal services and full representation
- simplify services and processes by removing unnecessary and outdated processes from legislation that are barriers to efficient service delivery for both LAO and its service providers, and provide LAO the authority to make rules about operational matters which currently must go through lengthy government approval processes.
Modernizing notary and commissioner services (Notaries Act, Commissioners for taking Affidavits Act)
Commissioners and notaries help protect people from fraud by verifying identities and legal documents. For example, you may need commissioner or notary services when gifting a used vehicle to a family member, or if you need to verify a document before going to court. These changes would modernize an archaic system of legal services by allowing tools to be accessed online while also safeguarding the integrity of those who provide these services.
The proposed changes include amendments that would allow for remote or virtual commissioning and notarization online, an innovation that would dramatically increase access to this vital service for many Ontarians. This change will be effective once appropriate data and privacy safeguards are put into place by regulation.
Additional proposed amendments would cut red tape and make accessing notary services easier by allowing paralegals to be appointed as notaries (like lawyers). This would increase the number of notaries in Ontario, making it easier for people to find affordable notary services. The proposed changes would also eliminate the need for the re-examination of notaries seeking reappointment.
Increasing efficiency when reappointing case management masters (Courts of Justice Act)
Case management masters are judicial officers who sit in the Superior Court of Justice and have the authority to hear and determine certain matters in civil cases, including motions, pre-trials and case conferences. Case management masters are currently required to reapply for their positions and be reappointed every seven years, placing an administrative burden on them and on the government. The proposed changes would remove the seven-year reappointment process for those 65 years old and under.
Other Proposed Changes
Administration of Justice Act
The proposed changes would bring the lack of financial means test that a judicial official must apply when considering a fee waiver in line with a 2014 Supreme Court of Canada decision. The proposed change would also allow judicial officials to address potential abuses of fee waivers (e.g. vexatious litigants).
Judicial Review Procedure Act
The proposed changes would align some rules for judicial review with federal requirements (e.g. time limits required to file) and make housekeeping amendments to remove provisions that are no longer needed.
The proposed changes would more accurately reference provisions that have been previously amended and remove references to provisions that no longer exist.
Law Society Act, Legal Aid Services Act, Canadian Public Accountability Board Act
The proposed changes would fix some of the French translation in the acts.
The Crown Liability and Proceedings Act
The proposed changes would clarify that a plaintiff's limitation period (period of time when court proceedings can be initiated) does not run while the plaintiff is seeking leave. The Lieutenant Governor in Council would also have the ability to make regulations setting out additional procedural rules for leave motions.
Creditors' Relief Act and Execution Act
The Ministry of the Attorney General has been responsible for the handling of civil enforcement proceedings since the repeal of the Sheriffs Act in 1989. As a result, a provision related to the sheriff's trust account is no longer relevant. The proposed change would remove the outdated provision. Other proposed changes would clarify the definition of sheriff to include Ministry employees who are assigned sheriff powers from the Deputy Attorney General and preserve the court process to resolve disputes over assets exempt from civil enforcement.
Courts of Justice Act, Absconding Debtors Act, Assignments and Preferences Act, Construction Act, Evidence Act, Human Rights Code, Law Society Act, Mortgages Act
The proposed changes would remove references to traditional judicial masters. Masters are no longer appointed, and their function is largely filled by case management masters.
Public Guardian and Trustee Act
When someone for whom the Public Guardian and Trustee holds property dies, the Public Guardian and Trustee can pay up to $20,000 of that property to the person's beneficiaries under a simplified procedure. The $20,000 threshold has not been changed since 1997. The amendment will allow the threshold to be set by regulation, which can be updated more easily.
Law Society of Ontario Tribunal Regulation
Ontario has made two procedural regulation changes to hearings before the Hearing Division of the Law Society Tribunal. They are:
- eliminating the current requirement, for certain types of motions, that the same Law Society Tribunal members who hear the merits of a proceeding (in which a motion is brought) must also hear the motion.
- allowing a single member panel to hear a motion to exclude the public and/or witnesses from all or part of a hearing to protect personal information from being shared.