Make affordable legal representation an election issue, prof says

A local law professor says that the people seeking office in the upcoming federal election and the parties seeking to govern the country need to be talking with voters about key justice issues, including the affordability of legal representation.

A local law professor says that the people seeking office in the upcoming federal election and the parties seeking to govern the country need to be talking with voters about key justice issues, including the affordability of legal representation.

Julie Macfarlane of the University of Windsor says that more than half the people heading into a family court in Canada today are doing so without a lawyer. In most cases, that's because these individuals cannot afford those services.

This problem is coupled with the fact that there are restrictions on how paralegals may be able to aid litigants.

Macfarlane said the issue is affecting an increasing number of Canadians, whether they go to court for reasons of divorce, support settlements or issues related to custody.

"The federal government is responsible for setting the policies around justice and the priorities around access to justice," Macfarlane told CBC Radio's Windsor Morning in an interview on Friday.  

"I would expect the parties in the election campaign to be answering questions from voters who are concerned about how difficult it is for people to afford legal representation and the challenges and the stresses that places on them when they try to navigate the system on their own."

Macfarlane said issues like this can take years to reach a level of public attention where they get on the radar of politicians.

"I think that this is an issue that has really only started to come to people's attention in the last five, perhaps 10 years, because of the growing number of people who realized they couldn't afford legal services," she said.

Furthermore, Macfarlane hopes the existence of this ever-growing group of people who are becoming aware of this issue will put pressure on political candidates and parties to address it.

"I think that these are questions that should be asked in the debates and hopefully will be asked in the run-up to the federal election," she said.

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