Opening the doors for public participation

Hearing panel pools

One year ago this month, the Law Society’s discipline and credentials hearings took on a new, more transparent face. Following a thorough application, screening and selection process, the Law Society named 21 members of the public who would sit on the hearing panels that discipline lawyers, and those that examine the fitness and character of people applying to become lawyers.

“As the legal regulator, being open and transparent is a key part of what we do,” said Law Society President Bruce LeRose, QC. “We are deeply committed to regulating the profession in the public interest, and I want the public to see that.”

The first hearings to include members of the new public pool were in December 2011. Since then, pool members have helped adjudicate 16 discipline hearings, and four credentials hearings.

“The learning curve was quite high,” said Dan Goodleaf, a member of the public pool. “You’re sitting with very seasoned, well-accomplished individuals. It is a bit daunting being put among them, with the expectation that you will be a co-equal on the panel. You are not window dressing, and you are not there to be subservient. You are there to be independent in your thought.”

“For the public, having somebody like me as an outsider, hopefully will bring for them a sense of confidence, and a sense the old boys’ network doesn’t apply,” said Goodleaf.

The members of the public who were selected to sit on the panels come from a wide range of academic and professional backgrounds. Goodleaf is a former Canadian Ambassador in Central America. He was also Canada’s Deputy Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs. Among the other panel members, there are former mayors, a forestry executive, a policing consultant, university professors, chartered accountants, and more.

While the public hearing panel pool is new, the concept of having lay people helping to adjudicate hearings is not. The Law Society’s hearing process already included some non-lawyers, by the inclusion of government-appointed Benchers. The public pool, however, expands the role the public plays in the regulatory process by ensuring that a non-lawyer is on each panel.

“Members of the public bring real value to our system,” said LeRose. “With their diverse backgrounds, the public pool makes an already strong process, even stronger.”