Hearing panel rules reviewed

The Benchers will consider rule changes in the fall on the composition of hearing panels.

In June the use of single-Bencher panels for hearings came under review. Rule 5-2(3) permits a hearing panel to consist of one Bencher who is a lawyer, provided the respondent lawyer or applicant consents in writing. While one-Bencher panels can sometimes prove more expedient and less expensive to administer, there are other considerations. In some cases the hearing can prove a burden for one Bencher to assume.

As well, in some instances defence counsel have enquired about the composition of panels in advance, apparently for the purpose of predicting which of three Benchers would most likely remain on the panel if it were reconstituted as a single- Bencher panel. If requests from counsel for a single-Bencher panel are routinely permitted, they may be perceived as influencing the panel composition.

Another disadvantage of single-Bencher panels is that they curtail the involvement of Lay Benchers in hearings since Lay Benchers cannot serve on single-Bencher panels. The Benchers have now endorsed in principle that Lay Benchers should be appointed to hearing panels whenever possible, that the quorum for Bencher reviews should always include one or more Lay Benchers and that Life Lay Benchers should be permitted to sit on hearing panels.

In their discussion, the Benchers agreed that three-Bencher hearing panels should be the norm for hearings, and that single-Bencher panels should be reserved for special circumstances. They took note of the fact that law societies in other provinces do not appoint single-Bencher panels, with minor exceptions in one jurisdiction.

The Benchers will look further at the circumstances in which such panels are appropriate when considering rule changes in the fall.