Richard S. Margetts, Q.C. President's Column
This is my last column - it has been a privilege, and a wonderful opportunity, to have acted as your President over the past year.
I have travelled much of the province (even learning the turn-off for the shortcut to Salmon Arm). I've met with many of you, discussed the challenges our profession faces and listened to your concerns about our future. I have realized the depth to which many of you believe, as I do, that our profession faces many challenges that must be met positively. Like you, I see the future as simply an opportunity to be realized.
I have tried in these columns over the past year to address some of the many challenges that now loom this side of the horizon. Who would have contemplated, five years ago, the outcome of the Mangat case (that an immigration consultant, in some aspects of legal practice, is outside the jurisdiction of the Law Society)? Or foreseen the recommendations of the Cory Report (the Ontario government's report supporting the creation of a self-governing body of paralegals)? Who would know that every major accounting firm in Vancouver would now have on staff at least one lawyer? Who would have contemplated the massive challenge the federal government has mounted to the core values of our profession - undivided loyalty to the client and solicitor-client privilege - through the money laundering legislation and Bill C-36, the anti-terrorism bill? These are but a few of the many significant underlying changes and challenges that we face.
To focus locally, for a few moments, it is clear that the provincial government is contemplating massive changes to the social and economic infrastructure of our community. The government's fiscal program will significantly impact upon our profession. Legal aid and other forms of welfare benefits, court services including courthouses, government registries and the many agencies associated with the justice system that receive provincial funding assistance, are all likely to be compromised as the new year progresses.
These cutbacks will affect our profession. Obviously, a reduction in the legal aid budget will affect many lawyers' pocketbooks. Most significantly, there are further, hidden costs that profoundly harm people's access to justice. To take the legal aid example one step further, there will be an increase in the number of lay litigants, which will place a further strain upon the judicial system. Counsel will spend more time waiting "to get on." Who will bear that cost? Who will provide advice to the increasing number of those ineligible for legal aid? How does the profession answer an increasing demand for "pro bono"?
An economic and efficient justice system is integral to a healthy and vibrant democracy. Our profession has a responsibility to work towards achieving and maintaining that goal. The courts already suffer serious backlogs, and litigation is far too expensive for most of our clients. It is open to argue that the justice system is already failing the community at large. The legal profession must be vigorous in advancing judicial reform with a view to ensuring that access to the courts remains a fundamental right, within the grasp of all of us. The failure of a justice system (even one precipitated by the executive arm of government) is also a failure of the legal profession to have been vigilant in ensuring the public's right to access justice.
Enough "lofty preaching" on my part. My year is drawing to an end, and it simply remains for me to thank all of those who have supported and assisted me in discharging the responsibilities of the office. I wish to thank all the Benchers for their hard work and dedication to their duties and for their encouragement to me, in particular incoming President Richard Gibbs, Q.C. and Vice-President Howard Berge, Q.C.
I'd also like to thank and applaud the many other volunteers serving the profession, especially Margaret Ostrowski, Q.C. and Carman Overholt, respectively Past President and President of the CBA, with whom I have had the pleasure of working with closely over the past year. While we may have had differences of opinion from time to time, we share a commitment to the public and the profession of this province and a mutual respect that will endure.
We are fortunate too, as a profession, to have a keen and progressive staff at the Law Society. They serve us well. Finally, to my partners, my office support, friends and family, thank you for your patience and encouragement throughout the year.