Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/3/2017 (1061 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A longtime Winnipeg lawyer has lost his battle against mandatory professional development after the nation’s highest court shot down his appeal.
Sidney Green, a lawyer who had practised law in Manitoba for 62 years, took his fight to the Supreme Court after the Law Society of Manitoba suspended him from practising law because he refused to complete professional development requirements.
The Supreme Court dismissed his appeal Thursday after five out of seven judges decided the law society’s rules are reasonable and should be followed. In a decision written by Supreme Court Justice Richard Wagner, the majority of the judges agreed the law society had the authority to issue professional development suspensions for those who didn’t complete it.
Wagner wrote a suspension "is a reasonable and effective way to ensure consistency of legal service across the province and to guarantee that even lawyers who are not interested in meeting the educational standards will comply."
The legal battle began after the law society made professional development mandatory in 2012, requiring lawyers to complete and report 12 hours of continuing education each year. It amounted to one hour per month and could include online classes, as well as workshops and presentations offered by the Law Society.
Green didn’t report any professional development hours in 2012 or 2013. More than a year later, the law society advised him he would be suspended within 60 days if he didn’t meet the professional development requirements, and that there was a possibility of the 60-day timeline being extended if he needed more time.
Green challenged the law society’s authority to make professional development mandatory and to suspend lawyers who didn’t complete it.
The Manitoba Court of Appeal dismissed his case and he took it to Ottawa.
Now, the 87-year-old said he will retire rather than be forced to attend professional development programs he said are of "no value" to him.
He said he believes the Supreme Court’s ruling will only "expand bureaucracy" within the law society and other regulatory agencies.
"I am being retired," Green told the Free Press Thursday.
He said he voluntarily participated in professional development for many years, but he questioned the law society’s legal authority to make it mandatory.
"I don’t think the law society is an educational institution. I don’t believe they have the competence to do so and I object to being required to attend a program which is of no value to me," he said, saying he’s heard from other lawyers who agree with him but only comply with the rules for fear of being suspended — something he said is not the most beneficial atmosphere for learning. "Just as you can lead a horse to water and can’t make him drink, you can force a lawyer to lectures but you can’t make him think," he said.
Two dissenting Supreme Court justices agreed with Green and argued the automatic suspensions weren’t fair.
Where an automatic suspension is imposed for "the least serious disciplinary breach possible — failing to attend 12 hours of classes — the Law Society is in breach of its duty to protect the public from the needless erosion of trust in the professionalism of lawyers," wrote Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella.
Kris Dangerfield, CEO of the Law Society of Manitoba, said the ruling confirms the "broad-ranging authority" of the law society, which is responsible for regulating the legal profession in the province. The court decision means the regulator will keep enforcing its professional development rules with a potential punishment of an administrative suspension for those who don’t follow them. Professional development courses aren’t limited to those offered by the law society, Dangerfield said.
She said the law society consulted with lawyers before imposing the 2012 rule and didn’t receive "any significant pushback" from lawyers other than Green.
The Supreme Court’s decision is important because it reinforces the law society’s authority to uphold the public interest by making sure lawyers are competent, Dangerfield said.
"The law is not static. Legislation is amended, the common law evolves, practice tactics change and so it’s very important that lawyers continue to keep abreast of developments in the law... to ensure they remain competent."
Green, who was called to the bar in 1955, is a former NDP cabinet minister who served in Ed Schreyer’s government and ran unsuccessfully for the provincial NDP leadership twice. He quit the NDP in 1979 and became the leader of the Progressive Party, which he led until it was dissolved in 1995.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @thatkatiemay
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.
Updated on Friday, March 31, 2017 at 7:53 AM CDT: Photo changed