BC legal regulator expresses concern over proposed legislation for a single regulator

The LSBC highlighted the need to safeguard lawyer independence from governmental influence

BC legal regulator expresses concern over proposed legislation for a single regulator

The Law Society of British Columbia has voiced concerns regarding the proposed legislation establishing a single regulator for all legal service providers in the province.

In a recent statement, the Law Society encouraged the government to provide more information to the public and the legal professions about the proposed legislation. Despite welcoming the government's update on its Intentions Paper, the Law Society highlighted apprehensions about safeguarding the regulator's independence from governmental influence.

The updated Intentions Paper is part of a project announced in March 2022 by the Ministry of Attorney General to modernize the regulatory framework for the legal profession. The paper outlines several objectives. These include enhancing public access to legal services, ensuring the independence of legal professionals, creating a single regulatory body, modernizing regulatory powers, and advancing reconciliation in accordance with the Declaration Act on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.

Despite these advancements, the Law Society said it remains concerned that the proposed model may not adequately protect the fundamental principle of lawyer independence, as underscored by Justice Willard Estey's assertion on the necessity of a regulatory framework free from political interference. Justice Estey emphasized that the “regulation of these members of the law profession by the state must, so far as by human ingenuity it can be so designed, be free from state interference, in the political sense, with the delivery of services to the individual citizens in the state, particularly in fields of public and criminal law.”

The Law Society stressed that the principle ensures that legal professionals can represent clients with interests diverging from the government's without fear of bias or influence. The Law Society called for a cautious approach from the government to ensure the new regulatory framework respects and protects the independence crucial to the legal profession.

This call for action follows a comprehensive public consultation process conducted between September and November 2022. According to the BC government’s Intentions Paper, the proposal for a single regulator model intends to increase the diversity of legal service providers and ensure their independent advice and assistance to the public. The proposed governance structure of the regulator aims to maintain and strengthen professional independence, with a board comprising a majority of licensees and measures to ensure it operates free from government interference.

Specific examples of intended independence include a majority licensee board composition, independent government appointees selected through a merit-based process, removal of the Attorney General from the board, and broad discretionary powers for the regulator to ensure the independence of licensees.

As discussions and refinements of the proposed legislation continue, the Law Society urged the government to address its concerns to protect the integrity and independence of legal services in BC.

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