Breaking down walls and building public confidence
Greater regulatory transparency: members of the public now sit on hearing panels
When Jeff Hoskins, QC, started at the Law Society nearly 23 years ago, it wasn’t just the colour of his hair that was different. The doors were just a little harder to open for the average person.
Front row (l-r): Graeme Roberts, Dr. Gail Bellward, Adam Eneas, Paula Cayley, Clayton Shultz, Lois Serwa and J.S. (Woody) Hayes
“There’s a big difference now. The attitude of Law Society staff and Benchers is much more open to the need for public transparency than it was at that time. Not that people were secretive then — it simply wasn’t a big part of what we did,” said Hoskins, Tribunal and Legislative Counsel.
Hoskins began working at the Law Society less than a year after Lay Benchers, now called Appointed Benchers, started sitting at the governance table. Hoskins saw how they worked to bring the public view to what used to be more like a private meeting.
“The Appointed Benchers identified things that the lawyer Benchers didn’t necessarily see. Things, such as, it’s all very well to say discipline hearings are open to the public, but they asked, ‘how does the public even know there’s a hearing?’ That simple question took us down a path to where we are now. Anybody in the world who’s interested can find out, because the entire schedule of hearings is posted on our website.”
Hoskins is now overseeing another change of historic proportion. Members of the public now form part of the pool of adjudicators who sit on discipline and credentials hearings, as of this winter.
“This is as big as the addition of Appointed Benchers. When we did that, it was a big step and not everybody agreed with it. I haven’t heard any negative comments in years and years from anyone about Appointed Benchers. I think it’s been a resounding success, and I expect this will be too.”
The hope is that adding people without legal training to the hearing panel pool will bring the public perspective to each and every hearing. While Hoskins thinks it’s an important step, he anticipates that — as with Appointed Benchers in the beginning — not everybody in the legal profession will think it’s a good idea.
Dan Goodleaf is prepared for that kind of skepticism. He is one of the 21 members of the public chosen to be part of the pool.
“A skeptical lawyer is the most powerful agent in seeking out truth,” said Goodleaf. “I would say, remain skeptical, but not defensive. Demand of us no less than you would of your peers, and hold us equally accountable for decisions made. And know that, in the end, there are no requisite credentials needed in one’s ability to protect the public interest.”
Nevertheless, Goodleaf and the others chosen from nearly 600 applications have many impressive credentials. This past spring, the Society ran a province-wide ad campaign to attract applicants from throughout BC. The screening and selection process was assisted by a third-party recruitment team.
Dan Goodleaf met fellow members of the public hearing panel pool, Linda Michaluk (l) and Carol Gibson, at the welcome dinner.
Of the final selections, Law Society President Gavin Hume, QC said, “they are an accomplished group of people, many of whom have sat in similar positions for other regulatory groups, and several have experience on public bodies. For example, we have three former mayors in the pool. I’m confident that the expertise this group will bring will enhance the process and help us meet the high expectations that the public, quite rightly, has of us as a self-regulating profession.”
As for Goodleaf, there is much he hopes to bring from a public point of view. He recently retired from the Government of Canada, where he held many senior posts, such as Deputy Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and Chief Federal Negotiator and Executive Director of the Federal Treaty Negotiations Office. A member of the Mohawk First Nation, he also served as a Canadian Ambassador in Central America. Throughout his career, he worked with lawyers.
“I’ve had lawyers who have served as chiefs of staff, confidantes, policy advisors, technical experts, and members of management teams. I have been impressed by their crispness of thought, thoroughness in analysis, objectivity and professional comportment. But my admiration of the profession has not blinded me to the fact that, as with all walks of life, there are the good, the bad, and yes, the ugly. I have had the fortune of dealing with the good.”
“I have no interest in regulating lawyers. But,” clarified Goodleaf, “I do have an interest in being thrown into the mix of something that has as its reason the wrestling out of detractors that corrode the standing of a profession, the institution to which it is part, and the public confidences it shares. And if that can be achieved, I have served the public interest.”
Sandra Weafer’s goals are not dissimilar to Goodleaf’s. Weafer is Senior Counsel and Deputy Director at the Public Safety Defence and Immigration Law Section of the Department of Justice’s BC regional office. She is also one of 26 lawyers chosen to be part of the non-Bencher pool to sit on hearings. This pool was created at the same time as the public one.
“I think that my role will be to add another voice to the process — someone who is a member of the profession, but who does not sit at the Bencher table,” said Weafer.
Weafer, like everyone in the two new hearing pools, has to attend training sessions organized by the Law Society on everything from hearing skills to Law Society practice and procedure. The courses are mixed, with both lawyers and those without legal training attending together. Benchers who have not taken the course before or choose to take it again are also included.
“At the end of November I was in the decision-writing course with a few of the lay members. I was impressed at their ability to articulate their decisions very clearly, as well as their common-sense approach to issues. As a lawyer, I welcome public input into the hearing process. Many complaints are initiated by non-lawyers. Having non-lawyers on the panel will ensure that the public perspective has a voice.”
When Weafer saw the ad for the position, she knew she wanted to be a part of it.
“I guess, fundamentally, I believe in the importance of integrity of the profession and the importance of the profession being seen to have integrity. I don’t know that this new process will help that because the profession — and the people who I have had the pleasure of working with in my career — already place a very high value on integrity. However, I think it will help the public’s perception of lawyers, generally, and of the Law Society’s ability to self-regulate.”
Other self-regulating professions in BC have been in the spotlight. In October the province introduced legislation to create a more accountable and transparent teacher regulation system. And regarding the police, the Attorney General announced that in 2012 the new Independent Investigations Office led by civilians will conduct investigations where there has been serious harm involving police in BC.
|The Law Society held training sessions for members of both lawyer and public hearing panel pools. The sessions covered everything from hearing skills to practice and procedure.|
“There is a shift in public perceptions of what were once considered the most noble of professions, be that of the medical or legal fields, the clergy, law enforcement or politicians,” said Goodleaf.
“Unfortunately, that shift is moving to the negative. With the ever-increasing exposure to a readily available and varied media, high-profile cases of abuse and misconduct are now too often seen as a barometer of a profession gone astray. And with it, people demand that something be done to restore a sense of order and, indeed, confidence. The obligation rests with those very institutions to be vigilant in demonstrating that the collective interests will outweigh that of the institution itself.”
Hoskins also believes the public’s opinions have changed.
“I think the day when professional governance was just left to the professionals without any input or influence from the outside is gone. There are higher expectations of the professions. You can’t just say ‘trust us, we’ll do it right.’ We now have to show that we’re listening and be transparent and accountable to the public whose interests we’re supposed to be advancing.”
And, added President Hume, as the need arises, more changes may come.
“Our mandate is to regulate in the public interest. As the law is constantly evolving, so is the public interest. And if we are to meet our mandate, we must continue to change, which isn’t to say that what we had before was broken. But as a self-regulating profession, we must always be looking for ways to make things better, and we will continue to take steps to do that.”
Members of the public hearing panel pool
Donald Amos, of Sidney, Dr. Gail Bellward, of Vancouver, Glenys Blackadder, of Victoria, Paula Cayley, of Lions Bay, David Chiang, of Vancouver, Dennis Day, of Langley, Adam Eneas, of Penticton, Jory Faibish, of Vancouver, John Ferguson, of Burnaby, Carol Gibson, of Vancouver, Dan Goodleaf, of Vancouver, J. S. (Woody) Hayes, of Duncan, John Lane, of Cobble Hill, Linda Michaluk, of North Sannich, Laura Nashman, of Victoria, Lance Ollenberger, of Fort St. John, Graeme Roberts, of Brentwood Bay, Lois Serwa, of Kelowna, Clayton Shultz, of Surrey, Thelma Siglos, of New Westminster, Robert Smith, of Surrey
Members of the non-Bencher lawyer hearing panel pool
Jasmin Ahmad, of Vancouver, Ralston Alexander, QC, of Victoria, Jo Ann Carmichael, QC, of Vancouver, Jennifer Chow, of Vancouver, Ian Donaldson, QC, of Vancouver, James Dorsey, QC, of North Vancouver, William Everett, QC, of Vancouver, Anna Fung, QC, of Vancouver, John Hogg, QC, of Kamloops, William Jackson, QC, of Dawson Creek, David Layton, of Vancouver, Richard Lindsay, QC, of Vancouver, Shona Moore, QC, of Vancouver, Karen Nordlinger, QC, of Vancouver, Jennifer Reid, of Prince Rupert, Dale Sanderson, QC, of Vancouver, Donald Silversides, QC, of Prince Rupert, Marvin Storrow, QC, of Vancouver, William Sundhu, of Kamloops, Gordon Turriff, QC, of Vancouver, John Waddell, QC, of Victoria, Brian J. Wallace, QC, of Victoria, Peter Warner, QC, of Prince George, Sandra Weafer, of Vancouver, Gary Weatherill, QC, of Vernon
For a short bio of each hearing panel member, go to the Law Society website (Complaints and Discipline > Citations, Hearings and Sanctions).