Highlights From Law Reform Commissions

As I like to point out, law reform bodies can be a great source for legal research. They often conduct widespread consultation with stakeholders, compare how other jurisdictions deal with the same problem and frequently dig into the history of an issue.

Here are a few examples just from this month:

  • Law Commission of Ontario Final Report on Increasing Access to Family Justice: “The family law system has been the subject of much comment in recent years and many reports recommending changes to the system. Since 2010, there have been reforms in relation to procedures to address domestic violence against women, provision of information, methods of resolving disputes other than the courts, changes in the courts and other efforts to improve the system. Yet persons facing family disputes still find the system complex and difficult to navigate. The LCO’s Final Report focuses on the initial stages of the system, notably the provision of information, ways of providing initial advice and the interrelationship of legal problems with other kinds of problems.”
  • English Law Commission Discussion Paper on Insanity and Automatism Defences“In our 2012 scoping paper and fact-finding exercise we asked whether the law governing the insanity defence was causing problems in practice. From the responses we received, it is clear that there are indeed problems, but that practitioners largely work round them. However, it is also clear that practitioners think the work the Law Commission is doing to reform the law on unfitness to plead is more urgently needed and, for this reason, we are prioritising our work in this area. We would like, in due course, to return to our investigation of the insanity defence. In the meantime, we offer this paper to inform the continuing discussion on whether the law has the right test to distinguish between those who should be held criminally responsible for what they have done, and those who should not.” [media quote from Law Commissioner David Ormerod]
  • Law Reform Commission of Ireland Issues Paper on Domestic Violence: “The first issue which the Commission has agreed to examine is whether it should be possible to refuse bail for preventative reasons where a person has been charged with the offence of breach of a domestic violence order under section 17 of the Domestic Violence Act 1996. It has been suggested to the Commission that because bail cannot be refused for preventative reasons under the Bail Act 1997, victims of domestic violence may be put at risk of future domestic violence committed whilst the defendant is on bail. A solution to this perceived problem that has been suggested would be to convert breach of a domestic violence order into a ‘serious offence’ for the purposes of the Constitution and the Bail Act 1997 by providing that it would be punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment and listed in the Schedule to the 1997 Act. An alternative view is that making the breach of a domestic violence order a serious offence fails to take account of the general objective of the Domestic Violence Act 1996, which is to ensure that victims of domestic violence have effective access to preventive civil orders and that this could be put at risk if breach of a domestic violence order, a preventative civil order, were to be made a ‘serious offence’ punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment.”

There is always a chance that a law commission has looked at a legal issue you may be working on. Slaw.ca collaborator Ted Tjaden has a section on how to find law reform commission reports on his legal research writing website.

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