Something we earn and protect
by Carman Overholt
The recent controversy over the alleged inappropriate payment to family members of the accused in the Air India case; the length of the Glen Clark trial and the anticipated length of the Air India trial; allegations of lawyer involvement in the misappropriation of client funds; courthouse closures; the devastating cuts to family legal aid and the virtual elimination of poverty law legal aid – all are matters that should concern us because of the way these events diminish public trust and confidence in the justice system generally, and the legal profession as a whole.
The issues that face us are not simply “the government’s problem” to deal with; these are problems for us as a profession, and will take all of us working together to deal with them. The response required is one of a united profession, seeking to convey and display to the public that of the few institutions left standing in this province, we are the foundation from which a better British Columbia can emerge.
Any alleged inproprieties, any hint of diminishment in the justice system, serve only to undermine public trust and confidence. We who work in the justice system know this well, and we seek daily to overcome these impressions. This is not a quixotic battle: surveys of the public have consistently shown that people believe that lawyers are to be trusted for their integrity, ability and commitment. These are the values we hold true for our profession, and we are as dismayed as anyone else when there is any downfall apparent in an individual or in the system itself.
The trust and confidence of the public is the capital we rely upon in order to maintain our profession, and the basis upon which we earn the right to self-regulation. Not one of us can afford to be complacent or apathetic in that regard.
No matter what some may believe, law is not simply a business; let us be under no illusions on that score. We may have many of the same interests and concerns as the thousands of men and women in business in BC (the unfair and discriminatory tax on legal services comes to mind), but we exist because there is a reason for this profession well beyond economics. We are the guardians of the true underpinnings of what holds us together as a society. Business does not get conducted, relationships do not get clarified, tangled disputes do not get resolved, without us. It is not necessarily an indispensable role, nor one we can ever take for granted, but it is one in which we can, and should, take great pride.
At this critically important time in the history of our province, the legal profession has an opportunity to contribute its ingenuity and creative ability to address the challenges that face the justice system, and to ensure that we maintain public trust and confidence. Working together, we have an opportunity to speak up against government cuts, to work to mitigate the terrible effects of those cuts, and to participate in the Administrative Justice Review, the Civil Liability Review, the Justice Review Task Force to ensure that the interests and rights of the lawyers and people of BC are represented.
Together, the Canadian Bar Association, the Trial Lawyers Association and the Law Society are working hard to make an impact that counts. It is in our interest as a profession to speak up as one voice, to be as strong in our opposition to unjust change as in our support and involvement in change that makes a positive difference in our justice system.
I thank you for this opportunity to serve as President during a challenging year of seeking to make a difference on behalf of BC’s lawyers, and to protect the principles of fairness, access and equality before the law.
This article was published in the August 2002 issue of BarTalk. © 2002 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.