Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Can Paralegals sit before the Bar in Court?

Historically being called 'to the Bar' means you can sit before the Bar in a Courtroom. Queen's Counsel -- those remaining -- sit within the Bar, slightly closer to the Judge. Serjeants-at-law, who no longer exist, actually sat on the Bench with the Judge.

Practically speaking in most modern Canadian courts all lawyers sit in front of what is now called the Bar -- a little fence that segregates the public from the lawyers. QC's who insist on their privilege of sitting even closer to the judge are usually allowed to sit 'within' the Bar but are often seen as pretentious.

But where do paralegals, who are licenced and recognized by the Law Society of Upper Canada, sit? Some judicial officers have made them sit with the public behind the Bar. Others allow them to sit with lawyers.

And now there is litigation (Lippa v Regina in Newmarket) to require paralegals be treated as lawyers and given all the entitlement of recognition by the Court as lawyers. This may seem trivial but it speaks to a very significant point of respect and dignity of professionals. It also speaks to the difference between paralegals and lawyers.

Some might say if this is allowed what is the point of being a lawyer? Others might suggest if you're allowed to speak in Court how can there be levels of audience? Stay tuned... .


Ranjan Agarwal said...

The bar needs to take itself less seriously. Self-represented litigants flooding the courts. The legal press replete with stories of lawyers disbarred for fraud or worse. A bench that looks less and less like the lawyers, never mind the litigants, appearing before it. Law students graduating with little or no hope of being called to the bar never mind practicing. And yet we fight about where we get to sit and what to call our governing body. #nerofiddlesromeburns

Michael Benoit said...

This issue may seem trivial but upon closer inspection you will find it poses some serious questions, such as:

Are paralegals, who are regulated by the same body, to be treated and accorded less respect from a judicial body based merely upon their type of license?

How would barring paralegals from "the bar" be seen and understood by the public?

This is a serious issue and a very exciting time in law as there is much to be debated and amended.

But to the question in the blog, would this end lawyers stranglehold and make the practice of law unworthy? I say if the application is successful it would usher in the next stage in the practice of law which not only includes paralegals but also respects them.

Steve Robins said...

The Court must view the role of the Paralegal representing an accused before the Ontario Court as equal to a Lawyer who is representing an accused before the same Ontario Court. To do otherwise would inherently prejudice the defendant by treating his licensed Paralegal representative differently than a Lawyer serving the same role.

Using the same reasoning, by not allowing a licensed Paralegal to sit before the bar will likely cause bias in the eyes of the public, thus undermining the public's impression of the value of Paralegal representation.

In my view, Paralegals are seriously discriminated against by the certain members of the Legal Profession, the Courts and the administration staff. There are many examples, but in the Newmarket Court for instance there is (or was) a sign on the Lawyer's Lounge that states "No Paralegals."

I can't imagine that any Lawyer or member of the public that views that sign wouldn't feel a bit uncomfortable; yet at the same time relieved that they are not a Paralegal.

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