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Thursday, November 17, 2011

West Coast LEAF welcomes Family Law bill, but says we need legal aid for true justice in family law

West Coast LEAF welcomes the introduction of the new B.C. Family Law Act, which was introduced in the legislature this week. West Coast LEAF has a long history of involvement in family law reform initiatives, and made submissions to the government consultation process on this new law in 2007 and 2010. If passed, the new law will replace the B.C. Family Relations Act, which has not been amended since 1978.

Significantly, the new Act places an emphasis on out of court settlements. West Coast LEAF is concerned about whether these alternative dispute resolution processes will be adequately funded, and whether the family justice counselors and parenting coordinators provided for in the Act will be well-trained to assess and respond to situations of family violence. Funding for translation services for non-English speakers engaged in these processes will also be critical.

“The expanded definition of family violence is a much needed change to ensure women’s safety and equality in this province,” says Laura Track, Legal Director at West Coast LEAF. “However, we can have the most progressive piece of legislation on paper, but if women are not able to access and assert their rights in court, justice will not be served.”

West Coast LEAF welcomes the proposed changes which direct courts to take evidence of family violence into account when making decisions about the child’s best interests, and allow for greater coordination between family and criminal law responses to violence against women.

“Too often we have seen the criminal and family law systems working in conflict with one another” says Track. “A woman may have a restraining order against her abusive husband, issued by the criminal courts, but be forced to have contact with him by an access order issued in family court. We hope these new provisions will help remove some of those conflicts and improve coordination between the different systems.”

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