“Woman’s custody battle highlights problems in legal aid system”

By: Dhanvir Sohal


The article deals with a vital issue in the Canadian legal system, the lack of providing legal aid to the people in need.


Who is entitled to Legal aid?
The article states that legal aid is only being provided to the very poor which is constantly resulting in large number of cases being self represented and is causing lengthier resolution times and worse outcomes for the cases. Similarly, the article discusses the case of an office administrator at a law firm, Rhonda Nordlander, making $40,000 a year and that amount being considered high for being eligible for legal aid. The applicant states that after paying high legal fees for her initial stage for divorce and custody of her children, she is insolvent by the beginning of this year. Thereby, she was forced to self-represent upon being denied legal aid by the courts.
What criteria is considered for granting Legal Aid?
Moreover, the article also explains the steps taken by the courts to deal with the issue of scarcity of financial resources available to the courts.

The courts are “triaging” the cases to distribute legal aid among the cases that needs it the most, assessing based on:

  1.  The complexity of the case
  2. Ability of the applicant
  3. Seriousness of the case and the impact of delay on the parties involved

By considering the criteria for “triaging” the cases, the judge in the present case decided that the applicant is intelligent enough to understand the complexity of the case and by this means is being able to self represent.

What is the impact of being self-represented?
However, the applicant opposes the above view by stating that it would be beneficial for her to have a legal representative as it would result in speedier resolution times and fairer results.  The studies advocate this, stating that even the most capable individual would feel overwhelmed when self representing. Aditionally, the applicant describes the results of self-representing as causing “post traumatic court disorder” to her, causing high stress and anxiety after court appearances. The studies also support this by stating that the post court appearance disorder is highly present in the self-represented cases involving personal matters, particularly the custody of the children.

Thus, the eligibility for receiving a legal aid being a subjective criteria, leads to high number of cases in need denied legal aid and being forced to self-represent. Consequently, the large number of cases being self represented results in higher resolution times, worse outcomes and causing high level of stress and anxiety to individuals.


About the Author

Paralegal Student
Communications Students.

5 Comments on "“Woman’s custody battle highlights problems in legal aid system”"

  1. Farrah Rajan | June 7, 2014 at 1:32 pm |

    Forcing Ms. Nordlander to self-represent because she “is intelligent enough to understand the complexity of the case”, is akin to suggesting that she doesn’t need a mechanic to fix her car, a plumber to fix her pipes or a doctor to prescribe her medication. Lawyers and Paralegals spend years studying and working in order to understand the legal system, how can a person with no legal education or experience be forced to represent themselves when their children are involved.

    This is why it is so important that the role of Paralegals is regularly reassessed so that we may serve those members of the public that need us the most.

  2. Jasintha Kunasegaram | June 7, 2014 at 3:48 pm |

    Wow, this is just sad. I think it’s about time the Canadian legal system starts re-thinking their criteria to accept an applicant for a legal aid. The economy has changed a lot compared to before, everything cost so much. So they should have really looked at how much the woman original daily living is like, and how much she has already spend, before they could deny her for any sort of legal services, just by looking at how much her salary is. So all in all, I think the Canadian Legal System should start considering the other factors that affect their financial state, other than the person’ salary alone.

  3. Amber McVittie-Quinn | June 8, 2014 at 7:14 pm |

    It is very unfortunate that Ms. Nordlander has been put in such a predicament because of the inability of our justice system to serve the public in an efficient manner. After reading the article it only makes it more apparent that despite the efforts put forth by the Canadian legal system there is a long way to go before we reach the desired goal. I agree with the other comments about this article when they say that it is not a fair practice to have so many individuals forced to self-represent when they have very little knowledge of the formality and proceedings of a court room and people often feel overwhelmed by the whole ordeal. It is definitely important that we find another way to handle these situations considering their prevalence. I am just curious as to what the necessary steps would be so that we are able to achieve this?

  4. Hilary Bowser | June 8, 2014 at 9:15 pm |

    I think that the legal aid system needs a reality check when it comes to the cost of legal representation. Legal Aid considering $40,000 too high for assistance is warped when you consider what the average income is for Canadians. We need a system where everyone can have access to high quality legal representation regardless of how much money you make. When people have to spend every last penny they have on legal representation, are they actually getting access to justice?

  5. Dhanvir Sohal | June 9, 2014 at 12:25 am |

    To Amber’s posed question:
    I think the system should have a classification in terms of different types of cases being brought forward and allocate a cost for each category of those classified cases. I think in this way, the needed applicants in each type of offence can have an equal oppotunity to legal aid. Do you think this would a good idea or would we need a more streamlined process for determining who should and should not have acess to legal aid?

    To Hilary:
    I agree with you,considering the average canadian’s income, $40,000 would not be sufficient to cover legal costs for a year in adddition to daily living expenses. I think more needs to be done to achieve what is called “justice” in our legal system.

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