The Smarter and Stronger Justice Act, 2019 (Bill 161) was introduced late last year by Attorney General Doug Downey. The stated aim of this ambitious 80-page package of reforms is to simplify Ontario’s complex and outdated justice system. If passed, the bill will make changes, large and small, to over 20 acts impacting the courts, legal aid, legal practice and regulation.
Here are a few key Bill 161 amendments:
Class Proceedings Act (Schedule 4)
- introduces a more rigorous certification test, new provisions for approval of third-party funding, coordination of multi-jurisdictional actions, administrative dismissal of dormant proceedings, and procedural changes relating to appeals, carriage motions and settlement and counsel fee approvals
Commissioners for the Taking of Affidavits Act (Schedule 5)
- allows for virtual (remote) commissioning of documents
Estates Act (Schedule 9)
- introduces a simplified probate process for small estates
Law Society Act (Schedule 14)
- grants the Law Society of Ontario the authority to regulate firms, in addition to regulating lawyers and paralegals individually
Notaries Act (Schedule 19)
- allows paralegals to be appointed as notaries
A complete summary of amendments can be found in the Explanatory Note to Bill 161.
Legal organizations, academics and practitioners have already responded to various aspects of the bill. See for example:
- Jasminka Kalajdzic, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Commentary on Proposed Changes to Ontario’s Class Proceedings Act (Class Action Clinic, Windsor Law, December 10, 2019)
- Law Commission of Ontario, LCO responds to Bill 161 (January 22, 2020)
- Law Society of Ontario, Ontario introduces legislative amendments to enhance public protection (Gazette, December 17, 2019)
- Radhika Sharma, Bill 161: The Smarter and Stronger Justice Act – How Ontario’s new legal aid bill will impact Parkdale (Obiter Dicta, January 21, 2020)
Since Bill 161 received first reading on December 9, 2019, just days before the Legislature adjourned for its winter break, it has thus far not been debated in the House or Committee. But MPPs return to work today, so stay tuned.