The Office of the Children’s Lawyer (“OCL”) is a law office in the Ministry of the Attorney General which delivers programs in the administration of justice on behalf of children with respect to their personal and property rights. The OCL is tasked with representing children in different types of cases. This article focuses on its role in custody and access cases.
In child custody and access cases, usually parents are represented by their respective lawyer. The court may request the appointment of the Children’s Lawyer under the Courts of Justice Act. This happens when the court requires independent information and representation to ascertain the interests, needs and wishes of the child who is the subject of the proceedings. One or both parties can also request the involvement of the OCL. The judge will consider the intake criteria before requesting the appointment of the Children’s Lawyer. As required in the order, within ten days, each party will complete a separate Intake Form and send it to the OCL.
Within three weeks of the date of the order, the Children’s Lawyer will review the order and Intake Forms and notify the parties and the court (by facsimile or mail) whether the Children’s Lawyer consents to become involved in the case and, if so, the type of professional service that will be provided. The Children’s Lawyer’s involvement in this type of cases is to provide representation to the child or to prepare a report, or both.
The OCL has some clinical investigators on staff (usually social workers) who prepare Children’s Lawyer reports. The clinician speaks to both parties, the child and other important adults in child’s life such as teachers, doctors, new partners, and relatives. They observe how the child interacts with each party. Once the report is ready, the parties and their lawyers meet with the clinician to have a disclosure meeting. At the meeting, the clinician tells parties what will be included in the report and what they recommend. The meeting is with the view to have parties agree on an agreement without the need to go back to the court. If the parties cannot reach an agreement, the custody and access report is filed with the court and used as evidence at trial. If a party doesn’t agree with the report, the party has 30 days once receiving it to serve and file a statement saying what the party doesn’t agree with in the report. The party can also cross-examine the clinician at the trial.
It is also important to note that the Children’s Lawyer only represents the child’s interest, and their relationship is protected by solicitor-client privilege. The Children’s Lawyer only receives instruction from the child and the parents have no right to instruct the Children’s Lawyer. If you are dealing with a custody dispute, contact one of our experienced Family Lawyers at MEHDI AU LLP today.
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