Human rights and legal groups lobbying for a public and open debate on whether the Law Society of British Columbia should grant accreditation to graduates of Trinity Western University’s proposed law school instead got an invitation from benchers for written submissions.
In a posting on the LSBC website after its Jan. 24 meeting, the benchers considered submissions in the “interests of transparency and openness.” The submissions by lawyers and members of the public will be made available to TWU and the public and must be submitted to the LSBC by March 3.
Benchers acknowledged the proposed law school has generated a wide vareity of reactions.
A Christian-based university, TWU requires students sign a community covenant, which requires students to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.” While the university was earlier criticized for its views on gay and lesbians, it does not bar them as students.
“TWU proposes to establish a law school that is closed to individuals whose sexuality has expression outside of marriage between a man and a woman,” said West Coast LEAF and the B.C. branch of the CBA in a press release signed by a wide variety of human rights groups.
In December 2013, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada granted TWU preliminary approval of its proposed law school program. Shortly thereafter, the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education authorized TWU the right to grant law degrees.
LSBC communications officer Ryan-Sang Lee said in an e-mail: “The Federation of Law Societies has already given preliminary approval and as such, is considered approved by the [LSBC] unless its benchers determine otherwise.”
The debate over the proposed new law school has lined up adversaries with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association coming out in support of the school while other organizations want a public debate.
The Canadian Federation of Students called the approval process from the FLSC “protracted and secretive”.
“It’s critical that the law society of B.C. does not simply defer to the federation’s preliminary decision or follow the same closed decision-making process,” says Preston Parsons, co-chair of the sexual orientation and gender identity conference of the CBA-BC.
“The Nova Scotia Bar Association has already pledged to hold public hearings to ensure that all perspectives are heard and that the association properly and transparently discharges its decision-making responsibilities. We expect nothing less in B.C., the province in which TWU’s law school will actually be located, and where the majority of its graduates can be expected to seek to practice.”
But, at this time, it appears the benchers will only look at written submissions as to whether they will enact a rule that allows a veto vote on the federation’s decision. The LSBC rules provide that benchers have the final approval over whether a law faculty meets the academic qualification requirement of the LSBC to recognize law school graduates. The rule (2-27, s. 4.1) was approved in principle by the benchers in July 2013 and finalized in September 2013.
“The benchers take very seriously their obligation to ensure that any decision regarding a new law school at TWU is done with the utmost attention to openness and fairness,” said president Jan Lindsay. “To safeguard the process, the benchers are committed to a process that is thorough, thoughtful, and fair. And they will take the time necessary to properly review and reflect before any decision is made.”
LSBC communications manager Robyn Crisanti said in an e-mail the decision to adopt the rule relates to changes in the approval process made by the FLSC in 2011 and 2012.
“The benchers had to ensure the change reflected the language of the Legal Profession Act, particularly with regard to how much decision-making power can be delegated by the benchers to bodies outside the law society,” Crisanti said.
She said benchers decided that the “ultimate determination of the requirements for academic qualifications may not be delegated.” Therefore, a majority of benchers have to approve any new law school in the province.
Since the rule is fairly new, there are no precedents for denying law faculty students accreditation under it. As well, the LSBC does not have any guidelines for denying law faculties standing.
TWU president Bob Kuhn, told Legal Feeds he is hopeful the LSBC will give the university a fair review as the FLSC had reviewed the school’s proposed curriculum. He said it would be “ironic” if students graduating from the school were not allowed to practise in B.C.
Submissions may be sent by e-mail to email@example.com or by mail to The Law Society of British Columbia, Attention: Executive Director, 845 Cambie Street, Vancouver, BC, V6B 4Z9. Submissions must be received before March 3, 2014 and will be made available to TWU and may be made publicly available.