Editorial: LSUC makes good move on transparency

The Law Society of Upper Canada made a good move in improving transparency recently.

As reporter Tim Shufelt tells us in this week’s Law Times, Convocation at its January meeting approved new standards for public disclosure of disciplinary matters.

As a result, it will release information about proceedings against a lawyer once it issues a notice of application or a referral. The move will end the current “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in which the public generally learns about upcoming matters once they’re about to go to a hearing.

The change is a positive development. As the law society has noted, the existing approach created confusion and sometimes needless controversy over its actions.

Last year, for example, it faced criticism in a newspaper report over its presumed lack of action against lawyer Kevin Murphy’s behaviour in a murder trial. But at the time the article came out, a hearing involving Murphy was set to go ahead last month. In the end, a panel punished him with a six-month suspension.

The Globe and Mail subsequently published an update correcting the report as well as a letter to the editor from the law society clarifying the situation. But of course, the confusion was needless, something the new policy will ensure doesn’t happen in the future.

Lawyers facing allegations won’t appreciate the added exposure they’ll now receive. But the change is a good case of the LSUC making improvements in order to better deliver on its mandate of governing the profession in the public interest.

That’s particularly so given that it eliminates the current information gap in which proceedings against a lawyer may be ongoing for months while people using legal services have no idea that they’re taking place unless they have the foresight to ask about them.

The move, then, marks a welcome advance in the law society’s bid to bolster the transparency of its disciplinary processes. However, on the whole notion of accountability and openness, the LSUC still has room for improvement. That’s because, for example, it makes many of its key decisions during committee meetings, which aren’t open to the public.

Of course, those committees bring reports to Convocation, which people can attend, but by the time decisions get to that stage, there is relatively little public discussion of them. As a result, debates that the rest of us get to see are fairly limited.

So, it’s certainly good that the law society is making progress with the new disclosure standards in disciplinary proceedings. Let’s hope it continues in a similar vein on other matters. That way, lawyers and other interested people will have greater access to information about one of the province’s key professional regulators.
- Glenn Kauth

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