The Toronto Star's recent coverage of the regulation and disciplining of lawyers by the Law Society is unbalanced and misleading. Many of the cases cited in the Star's stories, as well as their principal sources, are significantly outdated. The Law Society provided, in writing and through interviews, enhancements to our regulatory policies and practices implemented over the past several years that improve public protection, increase transparency, and ensure a more efficient exchange of information with law enforcement agencies. Most of these facts were ignored.
The Star cites a list of more than 200 lawyers' cases, stretching back over a decade, and implies that most, if not all, involved a criminal offence. What the Star says is a criminal offense, however, is untested, and would be disputed in many cases, particularly by the police.
Protecting the public interest
In their focus on criminal prosecution, the Star ignores the essential facts of the Law Society's role and mandate as the regulator of the legal profession. The Law Society is charged with protecting the public interest by investigating and disciplining lawyers who have broken the Rules of Professional Conduct. In every one of the cases cited by the Star, the Law Society took regulatory action against these individuals. Our prosecution can result in the revocation or suspension of the lawyer's licence to practice. We moved to protect the public from future harm that might be done to clients by an individual as a legal professional. We removed the lawyer's ability to provide legal service, and to earn a living as a lawyer. This is our area of responsibility. Criminal investigations and prosecutions are outside our jurisdiction.
In fulfilling our obligations to the public as the regulator of lawyers and paralegals, the Law Society regularly reviews and updates its policies and practices to ensure that they fulfil our mandate and authority. We sought, and obtained, legislative amendments over the last several years that make it easier for us to protect clients by suspending a lawyer's licence earlier in the investigation process. We have significantly increased the transparency and public access to disciplinary information, again increasing the protection of the client's interest and allowing greater and more timely access to information for the police.
Cooperation with the police
The Star asserts that other law societies are more proactive in contacting law enforcement agencies when a lawyer may have committed a criminal offence. All law societies are committing to providing the police with information to the full extent under the law. The Star fails to provide any evidence that the public are better protected in any other jurisdiction.
There are many more police forces in Ontario than other provinces. As a result, we need to reach out on a regular basis to a large number of police services, including the RCMP and OPP, in order to provide information about cases, trends, and access to Law Society information. Law Society staff also meet with and assist members of police forces on individual cases on a regular basis.
There are a number of references in the Star stories to notification of police that leave the impression that the Law Society does not talk to the police. This is echoed in a radio interview with Toronto Star reporter Kenyon Wallace. In an appearance on the Jerry Agar show on May 5, 2014, Mr. Wallace commented on his own piece from Star on May 5. Mr. Wallace indicated that the Law Society of Upper Canada told him that we do not provide information to the police about lawyers under investigation, suspension or who have been disbarred.
Mr. Wallace's assertions are factually incorrect. He mischaracterizes information provided to him clearly and in writing by the Law Society.
- The Law Society has a proactive relationship with police forces in Ontario, through which we explain to their members exactly where and how to find disciplinary information we post on our website about every lawyer and paralegal facing a disciplinary hearing. Law Society staff also meet regularly with members of police forces on individual cases police are investigating. We not only make the police aware of the possibility of criminal activity, we also help police to gather evidence, and, where appropriate, we encourage clients to work with the police.
- Information about every lawyer and paralegal facing a disciplinary hearing is freely available and can be instantly referenced by any member of the police, or the public.
- In 2013, for example, Law Society staff presented at 17 different events with police forces. The purpose of these meetings is to ensure that the police know where and how to access law society discipline information quickly and easily, so as to assist police in their investigations.