Advocates believe a family court pilot initiative in British Columbia may be promising for domestic violence victims who are navigating an intimidating legal system.
The Ministry of Attorney General and BC’s provincial court developed the project. An informal trial process is being examined as part of new court rules meant to resolve legal matters faster.
Under the new family court project, lawyers do not have to be present. Instead, each party explains their side, and a judge takes a more direct role in facilitating the trial. The informal trial will only be used if all parties in the active case and the judge agree.
River Shannon, a staff lawyer for the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) of Metro Vancouver, said the rollout of the new initiative also means the trial can be evaluated before being expanded.
The Ministry of the Attorney General with the provincial court introduced the new model so people who do not have a lawyer can still benefit from the legal system. The project also allows them to present their case more naturally.
Family duty counsel lawyer Kathleen Kendall said she was consulted before the project started. She highlighted the importance of emphasizing that the informal process is voluntary. She said that the pilot was an open process and that people could only use it if they consented to it.
Under the proposed court process, provincial court judges must attend two-and-a-half day training programs twice a year to study subjects including intimate partner violence (IPV) and mental health issues.
The initiative can be helpful, especially for people who need support after leaving their relationships because of domestic violence. These types of cases can take as little as two to four months. But the trial can last a year or more in more serious cases.
In Canada, domestic violence is an issue that plagues several groups. Moreover, there is a lack of support for victims, making it more challenging for them to move on from experience. In a 2019 study about domestic abuse in Jewish communities, 50 percent of the victims said they experienced barriers when seeking help.
Angela Marie MacDougall, a senior staff at Battered Women Support Services, said the new family court project in BC can be a promising solution to respond to the needs of the domestic violence victims.
She expressed her appreciation to the province for trying different things and offering something closer to what advocates had been calling for.
MacDougall added that the most crucial aspect of the new court model would be ensuring that judges are trained about IPV. She said that they must be willing to hear evidence about abuse.
Shannon agreed that the informal court process could potentially address most of the complaints from victims’ advocates in terms of dispute resolution.
She said she wanted British Columbians to be excited about the new process. She believed it might offer a tangible solution, especially to low-income or self-represented victims moving through the family system.
If you or a loved one is a victim of domestic abuse, you can reach out to family lawyers in BC, Ontario, or other provinces who can help. Nussbaum Family Law can provide legal counsel that can help you get the results you deserve.