Lippa Decision Reaction: “Are Paralegals Officers of the Court?”

Photo: Ha-Redeye

Photo: Ha-Redeye

A Toronto lawyer has dissected the recent decision in Marian Lippa’s application, and offers a measure of hope on one element within Justice Fuerst’s decision.

While the decision relates primarily to whether judicial officers have discretion in deciding which legal professionals may sit past the bar, and the order in which cases are called, Justice Fuerst also found that paralegals are not “officers of the court.”

Omar Ha-Redeye takes a thorough look at this question, in an article published in SLAW, “Canada’s online legal magazine.”

Impressively researched, the article provides a history of the “officer of the court” designation, its application across various jurisdictions and purposes, and plenty of case law related to this term. Ha-Redeye takes readers on a journey through paralegal time, back to the early days of licensing discussions, the creation of the Paralegal Standing Committee, and the 2006 amendments to the Law Society Act.

Ha-Redeye writes that:

Although the Law Society Act may not explicitly identify paralegals under s. 29, this should not be taken as an exhaustive list, especially since these amendments occurred before paralegals were officially licensed. As we’ve seen, there are many other officers of the court within the judicial system.

This section in the Law Society Act could not have envisioned or foreseen the prospective developments of the Paralegal Standing Committee, and the intent of the statute could not reasonably be construed as binding their authority to define and regulate the new legal profession which was being contemplated in Ontario at the time.”

And that:

“The implications of not recognizing paralegals of officers of the court is to disregard the ethical obligations they owe to the court. Ensuring that paralegals are officers of the court benefits the public interest and the entire judicial system, because it indicates they have a broader duty and professional responsibility to the law.”

Omar Ha-Redeye practises in Toronto and is currently completing his LLM in Health Law at Osgoode Hall Law School. He teaches in the paralegal program at Centennial College. Omar was named one of the top 12 social media influencers practising law in Canada, in 2011.

He kindly granted permission to SCOPE to reference his article.

4 comments

  1. Both David and Rajeesh are right to be alarmed and angered – and yet I sense no sense of urgency in this? The lack of a firestorm is, in my view, conspicuously absent. Rajeesh consider this – you are the only student from Centennial that has commented – become active, write a brief of your own, circulate it, get them here, get them active. Otherwise, this will fizzle into just another “online” article.

    I argue this crisis ought to be first and foremost amongst our concerns. If we are are not now nor have we ever been, despite what we were led to believe, then we are nothing but agents; but if we are nothing but agents, why are we jumping through the hoops? what do we gain from all of it – nothing. As the late Peter Kormos argued, not including paralegals as officers of the court was a stupid decision. But decisions can be changed – and must.

    As Omar states…

    “..The implications of not recognizing paralegals of officers of the court is to disregard the ethical obligations they owe to the court. Ensuring that paralegals are officers of the court benefits the public interest and the entire judicial system, because it indicates they have a broader duty and professional responsibility to the law.”

    My question then is…why did it take a lawyer to see this and we did not or would not? Every student is told they are officers of the court, it is in the code we are expected to comply with – so we could be forgiven for feeling misled. But perhaps it would be more constructive to begin the process of forming the line of argument that would favor change. While Omar has already provided the genesis for one line of argument, I think there is an argument for the positive effects it would have. In the process of inclusion, it invariably raises the bar of excellence that is demanded of our profession – but I argue it does more. It compels us, by the sheer force of pride, to improve the profession’s image, how we dress and speak, the quality of our submissions – all rise as a function of such an amendment.

    If the bar genuinely desires that paralegals be held to that very standard Omar had so eloquently stated, then they will champion this change.

  2. Rajesh Sehgal · ·

    How can the licensed paralegals being members of LSUC continue to face double standards. Licensed Paralegals are entitled to enjoy the privileges at par with lawyers as both are members of LSUC. LSUC guidelines and concern that public understand who are paralegals and how they differentiate from lawyers does not go well with this argument in this case that for this reason, the paralegals should not sit in line with lawyers for distinguish purpose. How embarrassing and discriminating?
    So the Paralegals members of LSUC should have been designated as Officers of Court within their
    scope of representation to avoid double standards, discrimination and embarrassment.

    Rajesh Sehgal
    Paralegal Student, Centennial College

  3. Rajesh Sehgal · ·

    To my personal belief, the officer of courts is defined as any person who is obligated to promote the cause of justice. An Officer of court has ethical duty to bring the true facts to the observation of court. Now a days, Paralegal students are been taught a curriculum approved and closely watched by LSUC that includes the Ethics and Professional Practice and Advocacy. There are minimum 18 subjects in addition to minimum 120 hours of Co -OP under direct supervision of lawyers. The community colleges have excellent resources and experienced educated Professors with background in legal profession. After the completion of demanding programme , a student has to pass the standards on Character Requirements, set up by LSUC ,and has to pass a licensing examination. He/she has to take E & O insurance. Eventually after going through all these phases, one becomes a licensed Paralegal and a member of LSUC .Not to forget, h/she takes an Oath to perform his duties and obligations in the cause of promotion of justice.

    A licensed paralegal who performs his duties and obligations while maintaining ethic standards. . The decision is casting questions on the system of licensing process and pointing that licensed paralegals may not possess the ethical standards to be officers of court.
    So isolating a Licensed Paralegal from designation of Officers of Court is unfortunate and arguable in the higher courts.

    Rajesh Sehgal
    Paralegal Student, Centennial College

  4. Dawn R. Burke · ·

    When I read the Decision, that particular part jumped out at me immediately. I think excluding Paralegals as Officers of the Court carries implications beyond what any of us can imagine and I hope it will not go unchallenged. Admittedly I don’t know the proper steps that should be taken to address this issue, but I can say unequivocally that I will do whatever I can to support any seemingly appropriate steps taken in this regard.

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