Pro Bono Students Canada

PBSC partnering with leading academics on innovative family justice survey


Access to the family law justice system is one of the most pressing areas of civil legal need in Canada.  PBSC is delighted to be partnering with Professor Nick Bala of Queen’s University and Dr. Rachel Birnbaum of King’s University College at the University of Western Ontario on an innovative study to survey of both represented and self-represented family law litigants in the courts in Ontario.  Starting this fall, 12 PBSC students from five Ontario law schools – Osgoode, Toronto, Queen’s Western and Windsor – will be placed in six Ontario courthouses to interview litigants involved in the family law process.  The Access to Justice Family Court Survey Project will collect and analyse empirical data to better understand the challenges posed by family litigants without lawyers.

This is the first study of its kind in Canada.  The idea for the project arose during a discussion between Prof. Bala and PBSC’s National Director, Nikki Gershbain, at an Access to Justice Colloquium held in Toronto in February 2011. Bala and Gershbain discussed the urgent need for this type of research and the value of recruiting law students to assist with the project.  Prof. Bala and Dr. Birnbaum have since worked to develop the survey instrument.  The survey tool was piloted in Kingston with the assistance of Leanne Wight, the Supervisory Duty Counsel at the Ontario Family Court in Kingston, and Melissa MacRae, PBSC’s Family Law Project Coordinator at Queen’s.

For more information about this innovative and vital project, please read the following articles:

Please find the preliminary results of the study in this Bala/Birnbaum paper, “Experiences of Ontario Family Litigants with Self-Representation“. The paper will be presented to the National Judicial Institute in February, 2012, and kindly acknowledges PBSC’s role in the study.