AG doesn’t need to be a lawyer: B.C. appeal court

British Columbia’s attorney general is not required to be a lawyer, the province’s appeal court has ruled.

The B.C. Court of Appeal yesterday said it would uphold the B.C. Supreme Court’s decision in Askin v. Law Society of British Columbia.

The case was sparked after Shirley Bond was appointed as acting attorney general in August 2011, before becoming minister of justice and attorney general in February 2012. She is the first woman to hold these positions in B.C.

B.C. resident Lesslie Askin believed Bond was unqualified to hold the post and contacted the law society, which rejected her complaint on the grounds it lacked the necessary jurisdiction.

Askin took the case to court as a self-represented litigant, arguing that Bond’s appointment was statute barred due to her lack of legal training, and the LSBC was incorrect to say it lacked jurisdiction.

In a decision last June, Justice Stromberg-Stein said the LSBC was correct and Askin’s overall petition was “devoid of merit.”

She added: “To conclude that only persons entitled to practise law qualify for the appointment as attorney general would impermissibly constrain the Crown prerogative of ministerial appointment exercised by the lieutenant governor and the lieutenant governor in council.

“Many predecessor attorneys general have been non-lawyers and non-practising lawyers,” she said.

Askin appealed the decision, basing her argument on four provincial statutes: the Constitution Act, the Attorney General Act, the Queen’s Counsel Act, and the Legal Profession Act.

Cameron Ward, whose firm represented Askin in her appeal, says he argued at the April 29 hearing that: “Applying all the principles of statutory interpretation, the only conclusion one can draw is . . . that the attorney general must have practised for five years and be entitled to have membership at the Law Society of British Columbia.”

A transcript of the decision is not expected for another two weeks, but the court confirmed to Legal Feeds the appeal was dismissed.

LSBC chief legal officer Deborah Armour told Legal Feeds in an e-mailed statement: “The Law Society’s position has been that the relevant statutes in the province did not require the attorney general to be a practising member of the law society and the B.C. Supreme Court was in agreement. Now, the Court of Appeal has agreed that there is no requirement for the attorney general to be qualified to practise law. The law society is content to have the matter once again resolved and to have confirmation of our interpretation of the Legal Profession Act and other statutes.”

Ward has been instructed by Askin to file an appeal with the Supreme Court of Canada against the latest decision.

He says: “There are some important constitutional and policy implications surrounding this issue as to who may be qualified to hold this position.”

The “primary importance” of the case was highlighted by the attorney general’s counsel during the appeal, he adds.

Bond is the fourth attorney general in the history of British Columbia who has had no legal education or training; federally and in other provinces this has only happened in “exceptional” circumstances, according to Ward. Lawyers have served as attorneys general in the U.K. since 1461, he notes.

Update 3:15 pm: Comments from LSBC

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