November 2009 Referenda

October 8, 2009

Proposals to amend the Law Society Rules:

(1) to clarify the term of office of appointed Benchers, and

(2) to apply Bencher term limits more fairly

The referendum questions

At their September 2009 meeting the Benchers authorized referenda of the profession under section 12(3) of the Legal Profession Act on the following questions:

1. Are you in favour of the Benchers amending the Rules respecting the term of office for Benchers to clarify that Benchers may be appointed under section 5 of the Legal Profession Act effective at dates other than January 1?

2. Are you in favour of the Benchers amending the Rules respecting term limits for Benchers so that one or more partial terms of service as a Bencher do not count toward the term limit unless the aggregate time in service exceeds one year or half of a term?

Why are referenda needed?

Under section 12(3) of the Legal Profession Act, the Benchers require membership approval before amending certain Rules — including the Rules relating to Bencher terms of office — by a two-thirds majority vote of the members voting in a referendum.

Why amend the Bencher term of office?

The Ministry of Attorney General has requested that the Benchers amend the Law Society Rules governing the term of office for appointed (lay) Benchers. The current rule is unclear in that it establishes a two-year term of office for appointed Benchers coinciding with the term of elected Benchers, but it does not provide for appointments made mid-term.

It is proposed to amend the rule so that the term of office begins on a date specified in the appointment document and ends at the end of the current Bencher term.

Why amend the term limits for Benchers?

Under the current Rules, a Bencher is limited to serve no more than four full or partial terms in office. That can be unfair when a Bencher is appointed for one or more small partial terms. While a full term is two years and four full terms comes to eight years, partial terms can be as little as three or four months. As a result, there have been occasions when qualified lawyers have been reluctant to run in by-elections to fill partial terms, because a few years down the road it will limit their eligibility to be elected.

It is proposed to amend the rule so that the term limit is determined by the time served as a Bencher, and not the number of full or partial terms. A Bencher would be permitted to run for re-election or accept re-appointment, provided that the upcoming term would not make the Bencher’s years of service total more than nine. In other words, partial terms totalling not more than one year would not count.

What is the referenda process?

A referenda information sheet, referenda ballot and return envelope will be mailed to all members later this month. The referenda material will be sent together with the 2009 Bencher general election ballot materials in all districts where a Bencher election is needed (see Rule 1-20(2)).

Only those referenda ballots that are completed and returned to the Law Society by 5:00 pm on Friday, November 13, 2009 will be eligible to be counted.