News Releases

For immediate release March 30, 2000

Law Society urges public to use lawyers in family court

VANCOUVER – The Law Society is urging people to use lawyers in family court proceedings. This warning is prompted by the recent court decision involving Darrin White of Prince George, who was represented by lay advocate J. (Todd) Eckert, a non-lawyer. Mr. Eckert apparently failed to present proper evidence to the Court on behalf of Mr. White. This lack of evidence was of specific concern to Master Doug Baker and noted in his reasons for judgment.

In his reasons, Master Baker wrote that although Mr. White’s defence was based on financial hardship due to an existing medical disability, there was little, if any, evidence presented to the Court to prove the hardship. Said Master Baker:

"There is no corroboration of this fact. There is no cheque stub or payment advice to confirm the amount. There is no letter or confirmation by the employer as to the terms or rate of disability payments. There is no evidence by way of a collective agreement or employment contract outlining the terms of disability benefits. There is no letter or note of a physician confirming the medical difficulties that would justify disability."

Karl Warner, QC, President of the Law Society of B.C., stated that lawyers are trained to recognize the importance of supplying the appropriate documents to the Court to substantiate a defence like Mr. White’s.

"Lawyers are trained in the laws of evidence and know what is required to represent a client in court. It appears from Master Baker’s judgment that the standard evidentiary procedures were not followed. Whether this happened because there was no supporting documentation or an error on the part of Mr. White’s representative is unknown. But what we do know is that Master Baker’s decision was based on the evidence – or lack thereof – before him, evidence which was needed in law to advance Mr. White’s defence," said Warner. "Judges are required to rule on the evidence before them and not speculate on what it might be. Master Baker commendably followed the rule of law, as he is required to do."

Mr. Warner added that the Law Society is becoming more concerned with lay advocates who may be representing people in court. Under the provincial Legal Profession Act, only qualified lawyers are allowed to practise law. "The Law Society of B.C. does not want lay advocates to practise law unless expressly allowed to under supervision," he said. "Public protection is our primary concern where legal rights are involved. Lay advocates, although well-intentioned, neither have a formal legal education nor do they have a code of conduct. Moreover, they have no negligence insurance, no compensation fund for defrauded victims, no regulated trust accounts, no formal complaint mechanisms and no disciplinary procedures to deal with unethical or incompetent individuals. Lawyers, by contrast, must meet professional standards set by the Law Society of B.C."

Mr. Warner acknowledged that there is a cost to using a lawyer but said, "Lawyers continue to try to deliver services better, faster and cheaper to their clients. They are working hard to accomplish these goals," said Warner. "Family court is often expensive and emotionally difficult but with the increasing use of mediation and other dispute resolution methods, there are fewer reasons to go to trial."

Mr. Warner also suggested that people be cautious about attributing suicidal actions to any one factor such as in the tragic case of Mr. White, where the courts were blamed by some parties for Mr. White’s suicide. "Suicide experts have said time and again that suicide ideation and completion are the result of complex issues of nature, nurture and circumstance. We are doing a disservice to everyone by blaming any one person or thing for a suicidal act. I think that we should learn more about suicide before we make such troubling and perhaps incorrect assumptions."


Note to Editors: The full text of Master Baker’s judgment can be found at:

For more information contact: Elizabeth Cordeau, Public Affairs Manager
604-443-5724 or 1-800-903-5300 toll-free in B.C. Email: