For the Record: The good character requirement

In light of the recent media coverage surrounding the Law Society's appeal panel decision Law Society of Upper Canada v. James Maurice Melnick, 2013 ONLSAP 0027, the Law Society wishes to clarify its licensing requirements.

Good character requirements form the basis of a licensing hearing and are part of the Law Society's mandate to protect the public, to maintain high ethical standards, to maintain public confidence in the legal profession and its ability to regulate itself, and to deal fairly with persons whose livelihood and reputation are affected.

Under section 27(2) of the Law Society Act and section 8(1) of By-Law 4, a recipient of a lawyer or paralegal licence is required to be of good character.  As a result, the Law Society requires all licensing applicants to disclose, among other things criminal convictions, whether they have been subject to a penalty imposed by a court, administrative tribunal or regulatory body, or whether there are other matters in their past or present circumstances that may place their character at issue.

Where there are concerns about a licensing applicant's good character, the Law Society will investigate and where appropriate, a licensing hearing is held to ensure that the public is protected.

The hearing panel is typically composed of a lawyer, a paralegal and a lay person. The purpose of the hearing is to put the facts pertaining to character before the hearing panel so that it can decide if the applicant is presently of good character.  The hearing is held in public, and both the applicant and the Law Society may call evidence and make submissions.

A hearing panel is concerned with the "present" and an applicant's ability to establish that he/she is presently of good character, recognizing that applicants can rehabilitate.  A criminal conviction is not an absolute bar to holding a lawyer or paralegal licence.

Rehabilitation is a core principle of the judicial system - one that is mirrored in the Law Society's discipline process. 

Section 49.28 of the Law Society Act allows applicants to appeal a hearing panel's decision. In this case, the applicant appealed the hearing panel's 2012 decision.

The Appeal Panel's decision in the matter of Law Society of Upper Canada v. James Maurice Melnick, 2013 ONLSAP 0027, is set out in the Reasons for Decision, available on CanLII

Establishing National Good Character Standards

The Federation of Law Societies of Canada is undertaking a major initiative on behalf of law societies to develop national standards for admission to the legal profession. The development and implementation of a common standard for ensuring that applicants meet the requirement to be of good character, including the identification of appropriate methods for assessing whether applicants meet the standards, is a major part of that work.

A working group of policy and credentialing staff from law societies across Canada has been tasked with developing a standard for approval by the Federation Council and consideration and adoption by the law societies.

The working group has prepared a consultation report to solicit input on the issues it has considered and its preliminary views on the content of the good character/suitability to practise standard. It is available on the Federation's website.

Comments received until November 30, 2013, from law societies, interested groups and individuals will be considered in the development of a national suitability to practice/good character standard for consideration and adoption by law societies across the country.