Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a lively conference on ethics and professionalism in the legal profession. The event was organized jointly by the Toronto Lawyers Association and the Centre for the Legal Profession at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law. The program was excellent, with all panelists making valuable contributions to the profession. I would like to make a special shout-out to Phil Brown and Jordan Furlong for their insights.
What is civility? In the legal profession, it’s a duty to act honourably, fairly, courteously, and in good faith toward other lawyers and the administration of justice. This duty also includes avoiding disparaging personal remarks or uninformed criticisms of other lawyers, judges or jurors.+
The duty for lawyers to act with civility and courtesy, in accord with the long-standing legal tradition, was recently affirmed by the unanimous Supreme Court of Canada decision in Dore v. Barreau du Quebec.* In the case, the judge made insulting personal attacks against a lawyer’s competence in open court, while the lawyer returned the favour through a private letter that eventually came to light. Both of them got into trouble with their respective regulating bodies for their ill-considered remarks.
The Supreme Court recognized a lawyer’s right to criticize a judge. But at the same time, it noted, the right to express discordant remarks against the judiciary (and other members of the legal profession) is not unlimited. It’s subject to the requirement of reasonableness and, more importantly, a lawyer’s duty to act with civility.
+See, e.g., Code of Professional Conduct of the Law Society of Upper Canada and Principles of Civility for Advocates by the Advocates’ Society in Ontario
*2012 S.C.C. 12
This blog is provided for educational purposes and for your reference. It is not intended as legal advice and should not be regarded as such. The law may have changed since the publication of this article.