One to Watch: Bill 245, Accelerating Access to Justice Act, 2021

Last week saw the introduction of the Accelerating Access to Justice Act, 2021. As its name implies, this new omnibus bill is intended to improve access to the justice system, reduce delays for Ontarians seeking to resolve their legal issues, and build on the rapid changes already implemented in response to COVID-19.

If passed, Bill 245 will introduce changes – some major, some minor – to over 120 existing acts. Here are a few of the key proposed amendments:

Judicial vacancies

Changes to the Courts of Justice Act to reduce delays in filling vacancies and improve diversity include:

  • implementing an online application process
  • requiring the Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee to consider candidates already vetted for the same vacancy within the past year
  • increasing the minimum number of candidates that the committee presents to the Attorney General from two to six

French language services

Further amendments to the Courts of Justice Act will extend the right to file documents in French to all courts in Ontario, enabling greater access to justice for Francophones throughout the province.  

Estates law

Changes to the Succession Law Reform Act will:

  • permanently allow remote witnessing of wills and powers of attorney.
  • enable a judge to validate an improperly executed will, provided the judge is satisfied that the document reflects the testamentary intentions of the deceased (moving Ontario from a “strict compliance” to a “substantial compliance” regime).
  • repeal the provision that a will is automatically revoked upon marriage by the testator, allowing a will signed prior to the testator’s marriage to continue to be valid.

Child guardianship

Court costs and delays for parents and guardians will be reduced by changes to the Children’s Law Reform Act. By removing the $10,000 threshold for children owed money, through an inheritance for example, parents will no longer be required to obtain a court order appointing them the child’s guardian of property to access the money. 

Ontario Land Tribunal

To eliminate redundancies, a single new tribunal, the Ontario Land Tribunals, will be established by merging Ontario’s 5 existing land tribunals (Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, Environmental Review Tribunal, Board of Negotiation, Conservation Review Board and the Mining and Lands Tribunal).

A complete summary of the changes can be found in the Explanatory Note to Bill 245.

Debate on the Accelerating Access to Justice Act, 2021 has been taking place in the Legislature all this week. Check the Ontario Legislative Assembly website for further status updates to the bill.