Justice and Consumer Affairs

Details of family law pilot project (10/02/10)

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Feb. 10, 2010

FREDERICTON (CNB) - Details of a $350,000 family law pilot project that will be launched in Saint John this spring were provided today by Justice and Consumer Affairs Minister Bernard LeBlanc.

The project addresses a number of recommendations from the Report of the Access to Family Justice Task Force, which examined the family court system.

The project in the judicial district of Saint John will introduce a new service delivery model for the Court of Queen's Bench, Family Division. A team of court officials, led by a case management master, will prioritize and manage the cases.

The objectives are to provide more timely resolution of family cases, reserve court time for the most complex cases, and provide self-represented litigants with the necessary information to navigate the process.

"I am very pleased that our department is launching this initiative," said LeBlanc. "It will be a new way of doing things, and will go a long ways towards improving the family court system."

"The three year pilot will provide the opportunity to test and improve on this new approach to resolving family law matters before it is expanded province wide," he said.

The model for the project includes providing access to public information, forms and other assistance for self-represented litigants; prioritizing family law clients to ensure appropriate and efficient streaming of cases; offering a mediation service where appropriate; better management of cases in the court system and better use of settlement conferences. There are five major components to the model:

Triage co-ordinator: In addition to providing assistance in the centre, the co-ordinator will meet with parties to help them identify what issues need to be resolved, whether those issues qualify for mediation, and will track the progress of each case.

Advice lawyers: Two part-time advice lawyers will provide preliminary advice to self-represented litigants. These lawyers will not accompany litigants to case conferences, settlement conferences or court hearings but will provide assistance at the entry point.

Mediator: If the issues are eligible for mediation, a mediator will assist and encourage parties to resolve them by consensus with the goal of preventing a court hearing.

Case management master: This legally trained individual will conduct case conferences with the parties, outside the formal court setting, to help them resolve their issues. The master will draft consent orders for parties who have reached an agreement, and will be authorized to make temporary orders for support, custody and access.

Family law resource centre: This office will be open to the public at least three days a week. It will stock family law legal information materials and forms and will be staffed by the triage co-ordinator. The co-ordinator will help self-represented litigants understand the processes involved in resolving family law issues. The advice lawyers will also be available to provide preliminary legal advice.

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MEDIA CONTACT: Marc Belliveau, communications, Department of Justice and Consumer Affairs, 506-453-4138.

10/02/10