Court and Tribunal ProgramPrint
In 1998, PBSC launched our first court project—the Family Law Project. Over the past few years, we have been working to develop a wider variety of court and tribunal projects, providing students with the opportunity to interact directly with clients and the justice system across Canada.
Family Law Project – PBSC National Project
The Family Law Project (FLP) assists litigants with navigating the family law system in five provinces in Canada. When the program launched in 1998, the number of unrepresented litigants in family courts was on the rise. Ongoing cuts to legal aid programs and the rising cost of legal fees means that the problem of unrepresented litigants is one of the most critical problems facing the family law bar today. The FLP is now a vital component of the family law system in cities across Canada, providing free legal services for individuals who would otherwise have to make their way through the system without support. Ten PBSC chapters—representing five different provinces—have launched the FLP in their communities. Every year, PBSC student volunteers help thousands of unrepresented litigants fill out forms, prepare documents for submission to the court, learn about court procedures and the family law system, and connect with additional legal resources in their area. Recently, the FLP received two prestigious legal awards—a Lexpert Zenith Award and a Canadian Pro Bono Award—for its impact on improving access to justice across Canada. Click here for an overview of the FLP by province.
First Year Student Family Law Project Pilot – University of Toronto and Osgoode Hall Law School
The current demand by students to be involved with the Family Law Project (FLP) in Ontario is so great that in most years there is a waiting list for the program. In an effort to provide invaluable exposure to the practice of family law for first-year law students, PBSC has launched a new phase of the FLP. The First Year FLP Pilot now allows new law students to participate in one of PBSC’s most exciting and established initiatives, providing them with early exposure to client interaction and the family law system. In their first term of law school, student volunteers will have the opportunity to shadow lawyers at private firms, including Epstein Cole LLP, government offices, clinics, mediation centres and courts. Early into their second term, students will also have the opportunity to shadow Justices Geraldine Waldman and Harvey Brownstone at the North Toronto Family Court. Second term work will continue with students providing substantive pro bonosupport to lawyers on active litigation files, or developing and offering public legal education workshops for women survivors of domestic violence. The project will be piloted at the University of Toronto and Osgoode, with plans to launch it at other Ontario law schools in the coming years.
Law Help Ontario: Small Claims Court Project – Toronto
For the average person, the cases that fall under the jurisdiction of small claims court—anything up to $25,000—are not very “small.” Litigating these relatively high-value claims is especially daunting without legal representation, which is simply too costly for many Ontarians. The Small Claims Court Project is one of numerous Pro Bono Law Ontario initiatives that also provides PBSC students with an opportunity to directly address the problem of unrepresented litigants in the court system. Each week, PBSC students join volunteer duty counsel lawyers to assist self-represented litigants at a busy small claims court in Toronto, learning on their feet by working directly with clients. The aim of the project is to provide general procedural and legal information that enables these individuals to complete the court process as independently as possible. In addition to providing information, the duty counsel lawyer can attend a client’s hearing or settlement conference, help clients indentify the legal issues related to their case, provide information on the rules and procedures of small claims court, and answer general legal questions. Following the success of the Toronto program, the University of Calgary chapter of PBSC is now working with Pro Bono Law Alberta and McCarthy Tétrault to develop a similar program in Calgary.
Law Help Ontario: Civil Court Project – Toronto
For low-income, unrepresented civil litigants, pursuing a claim can seem like an endless stream of confusing forms, unclear court requirements and complex legal jargon. To help alleviate some of this stress and increase access for these litigants, two volunteer lawyers, assisted by PBSC students, staff a Pro Bono Law Ontario self-help centre at the Superior Court in Toronto. Every single weekday, student volunteers handle intake interviews and triaging while lawyers provide clients with legal advice and limited representation at trials and motions. Students also assist clients with filling out and assembling court documents, and provide procedural information and educational resources. Under the supervision of the duty counsel lawyers, students might also help draft correspondence to opposing counsel or court documents, such as affidavits.
Health Law Student Advocacy Project – PBSC Osgoode Hall, PBSC University of Toronto and PBSC University of Ottawa
As administrative boards and tribunals become an increasingly prominent presence in the justice system, more and more Canadians are confronting the challenges and complexities of these legal entities without assistance or representation. In partnership with the Medico-Legal Society of Toronto (MLST), PBSC student volunteers have stepped in to help unrepresented complainants by providing legal information, offering assistance with written submissions, and appearing on their behalf before the Health Professions Appeal and Review Board (HPARB). The HPARB reviews decisions made by the Complaints Committees of Ontario’s health professions Colleges. Working under the very close supervision of a volunteer lawyer, students meet with complainants, prepare written and oral submissions, and advocate on behalf of their client at the review hearing. PBSC chapters at Osgoode and the University of Toronto have successfully provided this valuable service since 2008. Beginning in 2010, the project expanded to the University of Ottawa’s common law chapter, further enhancing access and support for unrepresented HPARB complainants in Ontario. Two individuals have been indispensible in creating and establishing the HPARB project across Ontario. Taivi Lobu, a vice chair at HPARB, identified the need for unrepresented complainants to be better prepared during their hearings. Joseph J. Colangelo, a senior health lawyer in Toronto, then took it upon himself to approach the MLST and almost single-handedly create this advocacy project. Since then, the HPARB project has received glowing praise from the Chief Justice of Ontario, Warren Winkler, and Mr. Colangelo recently received an award from the MLSTfor his efforts.
Administrative Law Project – PBSC University of Calgary
These days, many of the most important legal issues Canadians face are dealt with not in courtrooms but before administrative law tribunals and boards. Access to these entities is just as important as access to the courts, which is why PBSC students at the University of Calgary have established an Administrative Law project designed to help unrepresented individuals navigate their encounters with a range of administrative bodies. Eventually, PBSC Calgary hopes to provide assistance in many areas of administrative law, including employment, human rights, and immigration matters. The project will initially partner with the Alberta Human Rights Commission, where students will assist Commission counsel with respect to complaints before the tribunal. Students will participate in the same training programs and workshops that the Commission offers to its employees. In addition, the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre provides a number of valuable resources for the project. “The goal is to organize and centralize law students so that they can more effectively and efficiently facilitate access to justice for complainants,” says Tiffany Butler, PBSC Calgary program coordinator.
Tax Court of Canada Advocacy Project
The Tax Court of Canada Advocacy Project was developed in 2011 at the suggestion of the Chief Justice of the Tax Court of Canada, in response to the significant number of unrepresented appellants appearing before the Court. The project enables law students, under the careful supervision of Dentons tax litigators, to gain practical experience representing individual, low-income taxpayers. Working in pairs to represent appellants in the informal procedure (claims under $25,000), students meet with their clients, gather evidence, prepare arguments, and appear before the Court. The Dentons lawyer supervisor is present during the hearing. This unique project enables students to take an appeal from inception to hearing, learning valuable client management, interviewing and advocacy skills along the way, while serving vulnerable, unrepresented litigants in an under-served area of the law. In 2012-13, Dentons and PBSC expanded the project to Québec, selecting two participating students from each of Université de Montréal, Université de Sherbrooke and McGill University’s Faculty of Law, through a competitive application process. Under the guidance and leadership of the Toronto Dentons office, and with the support of PBSC National Office, lawyers from Dentons in Montreal worked with the students. To ensure the success of the project, Dentons has developed a specialized, multi-faceted training program for the students, and provides an unparalleled level of oversight and guidance. The students also receive Carswells Tax Database training, and their placements are regularly monitored by the PBSC National Office and the local PBSC chapters. In 2013-2014, the PBSC National Office developed a pilot of the project at PBSC Dalhousie, in partnership with McInnes Cooper which they are optimistic will continue. For further information about awards, news and successful case outcomes, click on this link from the Dentons website. Go to the Tax Court of Canada Advocacy Project page and scroll to the bottom to read more recent Dentons articles.