Next Monday, the Ontario Court of Appeal will hear Harry Kopyto make his case for the right to challenge the by-law which placed paralegals under the control of their competitors represented by Ontario’s Law Society. The hearing will take place at 10:30 a.m. at Osgoode Hall, (Queen Street main entrance at Queen and University) in downtown Toronto on Monday November 26, 2012.
The takeover took place in 2006 against the strong advice of three independent commissions including one chaired by the recently deceased John Arnup, a judge of the Court of Appeal for Ontario best known for having pioneered universal Legal Aid in this province.
Fox Gets Key to Chicken Coop
The takeover has frequently been compared to giving a fox the key to the chicken coop. Paralegals arose as an independent profession over the last three decades to meet the financial needs of the public who could not afford lawyer’s extravagant fees. Over the last 35 years, the paralegal profession burgeoned in numbers from a few hundred to well over three thousand practitioners throughout Ontario. The rise of the paralegal profession allowed the public to be represented by competent and honest paralegal representatives on matters extending from summary criminal offences to real estate transactions to most family law cases. By and large, paralegals offered satisfactory services at a significant cost-saving. The profession was self-organized to a significant extent having its own provincial associations which encouraged paralegals to obtain insurance coverage as well as promoting educational projects.
Dramatic Monopolization by Lawyers’ Cartel
However, the growth of the paralegal profession put the solo and small law firms which practiced in the same areas paralegals did under competitive pressure. As a small number of megafirms began to dominate the legal profession and extend their reach over the past three decades, the small law firms were caught in a crunch. As a result, numerous Benchers, who direct the Law Society, were elected by these lawyers. They were promoted in the elections by the Ontario Bar Association, often on an explicit program to severely limit their “encroaching” paralegal competitors. Of course, this agenda was camouflaged (poorly) by largely unsubstantiated rationalizations about incompetent and dishonest paralegals—as if the legal profession itself ranked better in this regard!
The dramatic monopolization by the legal profession went hand in hand with the increasing monopolization of the Canadian and world economy during the past two decades. The unprecedented concentration of power in the hands of lawyers by usurping near-exclusive ownership over the provision of legal services was part of the same process that gave a few banks and corporations immense control and power over the economy as a whole.
The Law Society, the voice of lawyers, now decides who can appear before courts at all levels and in all respects (including traffic tickets)—a vast cartel that undermines the administrative independence of judges. In addition, by denying equal access to the courts to those who cannot afford lawyers, the monopolization of legal services also undermines the rule of law which presupposes equal access to all in order to be meaningful.
Harry Fearlessly Speaks Truth to Power
With its vast array of political connections and an annual budget of eighty million dollars, the omnipotent power brokers that dominate the Law Society have wreaked havoc on access to justice just as they destroyed what was once considered to be a world-class Legal Aid Plan when they took direct administrative control over it in the mid-1990s.
Harry Kopyto’s legal challenge to the takeover represents the clearest effort to break the cartel that has strangled access to justice for hundreds of thousands of residents of Ontario. In this David and Goliath battle, Harry fearlessly speaks truth to power.
The hearing next Monday November 26, 2012 will determine whether Harry’s claim against the Law Society designed to challenge the constitutional legality of its monopoly over legal services will ever get a chance to be heard. To date, the Law Society had been successful in blocking such a hearing.
Public presence at the hearing will ensure that the three judges ruling on the issues will take notice of the public interest involved in its outcome. If a democratic legal system is important to you, one that is accessible equally to working people and the poor as well as to the rich, your presence can help make a difference. Be there!