Through the Looking Glass

Reflecting on independence and the state of society

Through the Looking Glass

As we start 2024, I’m worried about our democratic landscape here in British Columbia. Every week, if not every other day, there is another incident where I’m surprised at the comments of politicians, some lawyers, or media reports and editorials that don’t tell the full story, and are, cut by cut, challenging the rule of law.

At CBABC, we take to heart and action the duties of lawyers in the Code of Professional Conduct that include, “Judges, not being free to defend themselves, are entitled to receive the support of the legal profession against unjust criticism and complaint. Whenever there is proper ground for serious complaint against a judicial officer, it is proper for a lawyer to submit the grievance to the appropriate authorities.” We also note the duty to the state “to maintain its integrity and its law.” Here is another one: “A lawyer has a duty to uphold the standards and reputation of the legal profession and to assist in the advancement of its goals, organizations and institutions.”

When we introduce these ethics to law students, or explain them to family and friends, we must share examples of what these principles mean and look like in real life. It means getting the facts straight. It means learning about the administration of justice, the institutions, and the roles and responsibilities of the big players like the Attorney General, the legislature and the judiciary. Speaking up when unjust attacks are made. And it means not escalating or perpetuating public misconceptions.

The rule of law, that balancing of power among the executive, legislative and judicial branches, exists for the benefit of every member of our society. It isn’t for the benefit of lawyers or judges. It is there for the public. We lawyers need to stand up more frequently to educate and to explain what the law says and how judges go about making decisions. It’s hard given members of the public don’t always want to learn, but it is import-ant to calmly take the time to explain why these concepts matter. Our Provincial Court has a great resource you can use. The Canadian Judicial Council offers a straightforward guide as well. And we can’t forget the comparison of hockey and judicial independence in this CBA YouTube.

With thanks to Alison Latimer, KC and Greg DelBigio, KC, CBABC is presenting a half-day conference to assist lawyers to engage with these complex topics on April 12. Featuring leading speakers from the Bar and Bench, we’ll examine judicial independence and a judge’s role in managing courtroom conduct, balancing lawyer independence and modern ethical responsibilities, and the latest in the regulation of lawyers. This is a don’t miss opportunity. There is too much at stake.

Standing up for judges doesn’t mean that we ignore or neglect ideas to improve administration of justice. Reforms and improvements are necessary to keep up with an ever-changing society. Funding and other resources (like appointments to the Bench) must flow to the courts so they can meet public expectations and maintain public confidence. Change leaders need to be encouraged, supported and protected. CBA’s mission includes offering improvements to the administration of justice. CBABC continues to call for the return of virtual proceedings for simple and short matters. We encourage all actors in the courts to properly pronounce the names of parties, counsel and the judges, and receive their pronouns. Education to enable trauma-informed interaction with vulnerable litigants, including those asserting intimate partner violence or sexual assault, is critical to maintaining balance and confidence. And we need government funding to our courts and to our legal aid system to make it all work.

The landscape of our province and indeed the world is changing, providing opportunity for ideas to be accelerated into action. Respect for the rule of law and the actors who uphold it is essential.