It’s not unheard of for internationally trained lawyers to be denied access to the Canadian bar. But in a rare move, a U.K. law graduate whose application was rejected took his case to court, and ultimately lost.
In June 2010, upon returning to Canada, Juron Grant-Kinnear applied to the Federation of Law Societies of Canada’s National Committee on Accreditation to obtain his Ontario licence. He had completed a bachelor of arts at Western University and went to England to get a law degree from the University of Kent.
However, the NCA rejected his application because he graduated with third-class honours after completing eight courses with an average grade of 41.6 per cent, which is considered a passing grade in the United Kingdom. The NCA refused to recognize his law degree and told him he would need to complete a law degree at a Canadian law school in order to write the bar exams.
According to the NCA, it received 1,249 applications in its 2011-12 fiscal year, of which 57 applications were denied and 14 appealed the assessment decision.
Grant-Kinnear appealed the decision to the NCA panel, arguing the initial assessment was not objective or fair and contravened s. 6 of the Fair Access to Regulated Professions Act, but the panel upheld the decision. He then applied for judicial review to the Ontario Superior Court, which dismissed his application on March 13.
In Grant-Kinnear v. Law Society of Upper Canada, the judges questioned whether this issue falls under the court’s jurisdiction.
“With respect to the fairness and lawfulness of the accreditation process generally and whether it complies with FARPA, we have reservations as to whether this is properly the subject of judicial review by this court. This is a highly policy-laden process, closer to an administrative process than a judicial one in the decision-making spectrum,” said the ruling.
But Grant-Kinnear says he just wanted a chance to write the competency exams. “[T]o just arbitrarily say, ‘Sorry, go ahead and do a Canadian law degree,’ seems quite unfair,” he tells 4Students.
The NCA’s argument regarding his academic standing also isn’t valid, he says.
“[W]hen you go to a Canadian law school here, in terms of equivalency, there is no standard in terms of whether you get a certain grade, whether you can be allowed to write the law society exams. You pass or you don’t pass, and if you pass you’re allowed to write those exams,” he says.
Grant-Kinnear won’t have the opportunity to write those exams after the court determined the NCA’s decision was a reasonable outcome.
“The panel applied reasonable and objective criteria, took into account the individual circumstances of the applicant, and reached a decision that was within the range of reasonable outcomes. The reasons are justified, intelligible and transparent,” said the ruling.
Grant-Kinnear argues the process is not transparent at all.
“[T]here should be a set guideline to say if you complete an undergrad in Canada and you go away to the U.K. to do law school and you go to one of these 20 or 30 top-tier schools, when you come back here’s how many courses you’re going to have to do — and that’s not how it is. You can do the exact same course load and have the exact same experience as a peer . . . and be given a completely different outcome. There’s not really an understanding as to why that is,” he says.
Students would benefit greatly if there were specific guidelines to provide a better understanding of what to expect when they go abroad for their law degree and when they come back and apply for accreditation, he adds.
For now, Grant-Kinnear says he’s still “mulling it over” as to what to do now, adding his current role as legal counsel in the investment division at OPSEU Pension Trust doesn’t require a licence to practise law. He’s considering completing an LLM in the U.K. or maybe the United States, but says it’s unlikely he will go to a Canadian law school to get another law degree.