Call to Action

Explaining the independence of the Bench and the Bar

Call to Action

The recent municipal election campaign in British Columbia highlighted a disappointing and disturbing trend: the public, even candidates in the democratic election process, do not understand the responsibilities and limitations of the role of judges and lawyers in our society. They don’t understand the protections our justice system structure provides for everyone.

This trend was further evident in the discourse about stranger violence and repeat offenders in every corner of the province, a dialogue that surged following the September release of the Bulter/LePard report, A Rapid Investigation into Repeat Offending and Random Stranger Violence in British Columbia. Even some experienced provincial politicians appeared to have forgotten their civics lessons, including what level of government is responsible for the Criminal Code.

Canadian judges, who are independently appointed through a rigorous application process and review, apply the law based on the facts presented to them in accordance with the rules of evidence. They are not subject to external influences such as political pressure and public opinion. Sure, they read the news like everyone else, but their role requires them to make decisions, hard decisions, based on the facts and law of the particular case before them. This focus protects all of us in our community.

Laws are made by politicians. They are the ones who are accountable to the general public. Don’t like the law about judicial interim release? Talk to your federal Member of Parliament. Don’t like that people with serious mental health conditions are on the street and stealing to survive or harming others? Talk to your provincial and municipal politicians about much better health, housing, and social policies.

As lawyers, with a much better understanding of legal and justice systems, we have an obligation to inform general society about these basic democratic principles. We have all sworn to protect and promote the rule of law, and that requires us to repeatedly and routinely explain to our friends, family, clients, and strangers how the system works and what is meant by judicial independence and lawyer independence. For a relatable video about judicial independence, share this video prepared by the Canadian Bar Association.

When lawyers, CBA, and the Law Society take up this call to action, to explain judicial independence and the respective roles of judicial, executive, and legislative branches of government, we too will come under attack. It is happening all over the world. Lawyers, representing their clients, are alleged to be just like their client. The concept that we “represent” our clients, and are not in agreement with them, is lost on much of the public. You see this in assertions when lawyers represent clients, from individuals to major corporations, who challenge government decisions and policies. You see it in commentary about Crown counsel, and particularly with respect to criminal defence counsel. Marie Henein, one of Canada’s best lawyers, has been eloquently speaking for some time about the attacks on lawyers for simply doing their job. Earlier this year she delivered the Law Society of BC Rule of Law Lecture. That lecture, the related podcast and her book, “Nothing But the Truth,” should be required for every lawyer to review. It will give you a boost of energy to take up the job of reminding people of why lawyers matter and why democracy depends on us.

I invite all of you to renew your commitment to protecting the rule of law and take up this call to action. The public needs a justice and legal system they can understand, be confident about, and can access. Very public actors are broadening their criticism, most of it undeserved and based on misunderstanding, misinformation, and political agendas. Lawyers must and will defend against attacks on our role and that of judges. Democracy depends on it.