|For immediate release||July 19, 2011|
Law Society responds to BC Human Rights Tribunal decisions
Vancouver – In a decision released on July 15, 2011, the BC Human Rights Tribunal outlined a remedy related to a 2009 tribunal decision that found a question the Law Society posed to potential lawyers in an admissions form discriminated against applicants with mental disabilities. The tribunal also found the process following an affirmative answer was discriminatory.
After the 2009 decision, the Law Society made a number of changes to comply with the Human Rights Code. Subsequent to consulting with a special working group of senior members of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia and gathering information from law societies in other jurisdictions, the Law Society re-formulated the application question. The Society has also revised its policies and procedures related to the application process for articled students and lawyers, to ensure they are not discriminatory.
Old question on application forms: “Have you ever been treated for schizophrenia, paranoia, or a mood disorder described as a major affective illness, bipolar mood disorder or manic depressive illness?”
New question on application forms: “Based on your personal history, your current circumstances or any professional opinion or advice you have received, do you have any existing condition that is reasonably likely to impair your ability to function as a lawyer or articled student? If the answer is “yes” to the question above, please provide a general description of the impairment.”
“The Law Society asks a medical fitness question because the practice of law is often rigorous and demands a high level of functioning,” said Law Society President Gavin Hume, QC. “Any medical condition that would render someone incapable of practising law competently puts clients’ interests at risk. However, the Law Society recognizes that everyone experiences pressures in life and responds to those pressures differently. Applicants may be quite capable of practising law competently in spite of any past medical condition.”
The July 15, 2011 remedy decision includes a financial award for damages to Peter M. Gichuru for past wage losses, injury to dignity and feelings, and expenses. The Law Society accepts the determination and will not appeal.
“At no time was it the Law Society’s intention to discriminate,” said Hume. “While the BC Human Rights Tribunal found the question discriminatory, the tribunal made it clear the Society had been acting in good faith in carrying out its mandate to protect the public by ensuring lawyers are competent and fit to practise. The Society is confident the new application question and process continues to protect the public while at the same time treats applicants fairly.”
The Law Society of British Columbia regulates the more than 10,000 lawyers in the province, setting and enforcing standards of professional conduct that ensure the public is well-served by a competent, honourable legal profession.
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