Supporters Shocked at Court’s Hostility
The Divisional Court’s decision to back the Law Society Panel ruling on Harry Kopyto’s character came as a shock to his supporters. They expected an exchange of views. They wanted the Court’s assessment on whether the Panel could sweep under the rug Harry’s challenge to a law that gives lawyers the right to govern and judge their competitors. They wanted to know why the Panel judging Harry did not have to respond to Harry’s charge that they lacked administrative independence from benchers elected by lawyers and that they kowtowed to Big Law’s agenda.
They wanted to hear why the Law Society Hearing Panel didn’t control their own administration and assignments — so important to an independent judiciary. And they wanted to know how Panel Chair Margot Blight’s plea of institutional incompetence — the issue of whether lawyers should judge their competitors was too hot to handle — could justify refusing to respond to these vital questions.
Swinton Snarls at Harry
Instead, they got a largely silent court whose hostility permeated the room from the opening bang of the gavel. Chaired by a former conservative advisor to federal and provincial governments, Judge Katherine Swinton repeatedly tried to deflect Harry’s 45-minute presentation while the two other judges on the wings practiced their stoney expressions. Swinton’s accusation that Harry wanted the Law Society completely out of the worklives of paralegals was made with a snarl of contempt. Harry’s response, that the issue before the Court was his right to question the institutional independence of the Hearing Panel, was never addressed by Swinton. His explanation that the Law Society’s By-law 4 resulted in lawyers’ reducing access to affordable justice by cutting the services that paralegals can provide fell on deaf ears.
Not even once did the Court attempt to address any of his simple, clear, emphatic points in support of an order requiring Margot Blight’s Hearing Panel to rule on his challenge to its independence from the pressures of the legal profession that sets her salary, assigns her cases and decides her term of office.
Divisional Court — A Shameless Rubber Stamp
In fact, in its stampede to march lockstep with her Law Society cousins across the ornate hallway in the East Wing of Osgoode Hall, the Swinton Court made mincemeat of clear law that says that there is no discretion to refuse a ruling on an issue of jurisdiction and natural justice before judging a case on the merits. Shamelessly, the Divisional Court, renowned in legal circles as a rubberstamp for government decisions, lived down to its reputation, by ruling precisely the opposite.
The solid front presented by the Court in empathy with their professional executioners next door reveals how deeply threatened the legal system is by Harry’s revelation that the Emperor has no clothes. That those who govern their competitors are in a conflict of interest requires no elaboration. All Harry asked for was an order to compel a decision to be made. All Swinton’s barbs and snippets of attack on him were directed to defending the Law Society’s monopoly which was not the issue presented before this Court which deals only with procedure — but it most certainly was guiding their thoughts and actions.
There was one revealing glimmer in the Court’s decision. It shredded the Law Society’s request for compensation of its $17,000 bill of costs by reducing it to $5,000. That was unusual. Such a severe reduction was highly inconsistent with the Court’s practice. Was the Divisional Court subliminally signaling its embarrassment at denying Harry what the law required it to grant? Or was it an insipid effort to give the impression of fairness and balance so lacking in its decision?
It’s Not Over
Whatever their motive, the Divisional Court’s wholehearted endorsement of their kissing cousins in the East Wing of Osgoode Hall shows their rigid, unyielding disdain against anyone questioning the power of Big Law. But the decision of the judges to circle their wagons around the poor beleaguered Law Society may not be the final act in this drama. Harry is fond of telling everyone that his efforts in the 1980s to win his client, socialist activist Ross Dowson, the right to lay a charge against the RCMP for admitted criminal conduct, was consistently rejected at every court level without dissent. Nonetheless, eight years later he succeeded in reaffirming the historic right of private prosecution in a unanimous decision in Dowson’s favour by the Supreme Court of Canada. Harry has already filed a motion to appeal the Divisional Court’s decision.
Sparks Will Fly
Harry was buoyed by the solid support of the public. Over 40 members of the public who found the courtroom, bore witness that Harry’s ongoing support remains solid and growing. This was further borne out with the revelation that, as a result of confusion over the Courtroom’s location, about 15 of his supporters who used the Law Society’s entrance to Osgoode Hall were told that no proceedings involving Harry were taking place. Public support and presence at his hearings has acted as a contravening force against the institutional bias and dependence of the Blight Panel on their minders in the dark recesses of the Law Society’s archaic chambers. Such broad support is sorely needed at Harry’s upcoming hearing on Monday October 24, 2011 at 9:30 a.m., Museum Room, Osgoode Hall as Harry cross-examines the Law Society’s Chief Investigator in a confrontation that is sure to ignite sparks.
Harry Kopyto Defence Committee