Multi-million dollar fund will open doors to justice wider across Canada

TORONTO, May 31 /CNW/ - The Law Foundation of Ontario (LFO) invites applications from across Canada to its just-launched, $14.6-million Access to Justice Fund. The Fund was established as part of a groundbreaking arrangement relating to the settlement of a major class action lawsuit. The Fund will be used to improve access to justice nationally, with a focus on five specific themes.

The ATJ Fund is an outcome of a class action suit (Cassano v. Toronto Dominion Bank), involving substantial "cy pres" awards. Cy pres awards are funds that are left over when an award or settlement is made in a class action suit and, for any number of reasons, not all of the money can be distributed directly to the plaintiffs. When this happens, the courts can distribute these funds to charitable purposes.

The court-approved settlement is the first time a cy pres award has been given to the LFO, which is using the $14.6 million award to establish the ATJ Fund. Like its counterparts in other provinces, the LFO is a long-established organization with extensive grant-management expertise, most of whose regular revenue comes from interest on lawyers' and paralegals' mixed trust accounts.

The ATJ Fund will be directed to law-related projects with a connection to one or more of five themes: linguistic minorities and people living in rural and remote areas, Aboriginal people, individuals without legal representation, family violence, and consumer rights.

The ATJ Fund will be open for applications for a one-year period, and non-profit organizations from across Canada are invited to apply. There will be a preference for larger-scale and high-impact initiatives. The LFO will also seek to ensure a reasonable national distribution of the funds. Full details regarding application procedures and timelines are available on the LFO website (www.lawfoundation.on.ca/atjf).

"Access to justice is at the core of our mission. So it is exciting to be able to make substantial additional funding available for projects where the need is so great and the potential impact so high," said Toronto lawyer and LFO Chair Mark Sandler. "As well, the timing could not be better since record-low interest rates are biting very deeply into the regular revenues of all law foundations."

This innovative use of a particularly large cy pres award is a noteworthy precedent, according to Toronto lawyer Paul Pape, who acted for the plaintiffs in Cassano.

"Class actions are becoming more frequent across Canada," Pape said. "From a plaintiff's perspective, it's important to see cy pres awards put to meaningful uses that relate in some way to the original litigation, and I believe the ATJ Fund achieves that.

"The overall theme of access to justice also sits well with me because that's a big part of what class action litigation itself is meant to improve," Pape added.

"This is a great opportunity to take broad perspectives and to improve access to justice across Canada," said Wayne Robertson QC, Executive Director of the Law Foundation of British Columbia, and a member of a national consultation group that provided the LFO with input on the structure and themes for the ATJ Fund.

Robertson noted that access to justice is increasingly recognized as a serious issue for a broad cross-section of Canadians.

The Law Foundation of Ontario helps more Ontarians to understand the law and use it to improve their lives. It provides grants to diverse organizations working to enhance access to justice, and supports the practice of public interest law and professional excellence.

SOURCE The Law Foundation of Ontario

For further information: For further information: Tanya Lee, Project Director, (416) 598-1550 x 318

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The Law Foundation of Ontario

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