Ontario introduces legislative amendments to enhance public protection
Several legislative amendments to the Law Society Act were announced on December 9 by the Government of Ontario, as part of Bill 161. The changes address requests the Law Society had made to the Ministry of the Attorney General and respond to an evolving legal landscape. The amendments introduce a number of new measures, including firm regulation.
“The Law Society is pleased with the proposed amendments to the Law Society Act, which will help provide greater public protection,” says Law Society Treasurer Malcolm Mercer.
Under the changes, Convocation will have the authority to make by-laws directly governing the practice of law or provision of legal services through a firm. Lawyers and paralegals will also continue to be regulated individually.
“Firm regulation recognizes that many professional decisions that were once made by individual lawyers or paralegals in firms are increasingly determined by firm policies and procedures,” says the Treasurer. “This type of regulation can streamline the reporting relationship for lawyers in firms, and are intended to reduce unnecessary burdens.”
The new provisions will enable the Law Society to distinguish between types of firms and treat them accordingly, in recognition of the fact that “one size does not fit all” when it comes to firm regulation — in a way that recognizes the realities of sole and small practices.
The Law Society will consult with the professions before moving ahead with any recommendations about firm regulation to Convocation.
amendments are also proposed to section 49.12 of the Act regarding the disclosure of specified information about complaints and investigations. These amendments strengthen the Law Society’s Disclosure Policy Framework (PDF) and implement the report of the Disclosure Working Group as adopted by Convocation (PDF).
The amendments clarify protections for solicitor-client privileged information and information that may incriminate a person or establish liability to criminal proceedings.
Any further disclosure procedures will be implemented through policy development, consultation and bylaw amendment, as approved by Convocation.
Other proposed legislative amendments included an increase in the maximum fine that the Law Society Tribunal can order regarding prohibited licensee conduct — from $10,000 to $100,000.
An additional provision was included to enable the Tribunal to order a summary licence revocation, if the licence has been suspended for discipline reasons, for over two years.
As well, an amendment is proposed to give the Law Society authority to enter former business premises of a licensee under review, to acquire information, including from former colleagues.
Bill 161 also includes changes to the Legal Aid Services Act, which underscores the foundational role that private practitioners play in providing services in the areas of criminal, family and child protection law – and the foundational role of legal aid clinics in poverty law. The Law Society will continue in its role to assist in the appointment process of the Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) board of directors and the selection of its Chair.
Amendments to the Notaries Act were announced in the bill to clarify notarial duties in response to technological changes, and to make paralegals eligible to be appointed as notaries upon licensure.
“The Law Society is pleased with these amendments,” says Treasurer Mercer. “Paralegals have been regulated by the Law Society for more than 10 years, and they play a very important role in access to justice for the people of Ontario.”
For more information about the amendments, see the Act.