Paralegal fights decision putting them behind the bar

Toronto paralegal Marion Lippa has launched a Certiorari application in Newmarket Superior Court to overturn a Justice of the Peace’s decision banning paralegals from sitting past the bar and requiring they be called in accordance with the Barristers Act to handle criminal matters.

Lippa says she is bringing the application on behalf of all of Ontario’s paralegals. She notes that since the decision by JP G.M.K. Forrest on June 10, 2010, the practice of disallowing paralegals to sit before the bar and wait to be called – often last – is spreading province-wide.  Read Affadavit

Lippa says Forrest relied on para. 4 in the Barrister’s Act that states matters shall be called in order of the the lawyers’ call to the bar – that effectively leaves paralegals to go last, even if they turn up in court and sign in first.

Lippa says in her affadavit that since Forrest’s decision, her “ability to provide agent services has declined sharply. Because agent matters are now called following counsel matters, I am often waiting in court to do a routine set-date for over an hour – regardless of when I arrive at the courthouse. As a result I can no longer do as many set-date appearances in one day, simply because I am prevented from traveling to as many courthouses in time.”

She adds that she is “no longer able to set as many trial dates for counsel especially. When setting trial dates or other dates that require attending directly at the trial coordinator’s office, I continuously end up spending up to three hours on one matter.

“By the time I have secured a date with the trial coordinator, and then by the time all counsel matters have been dealt with, the court often takes the morning recess. Effectively, an appearance which before took perhaps up to one half-hour of my day, can now take up to three hours.”

Lippa notes that the work she does is for busy lawyers who engage her to assist in their practices, and there’s a Domino effect.

“In speaking with the defence counsel whom I assist, they say that access to justice for their clients has been diminished. That is because it is most often not cost effective to have lawyers appear on set dates, and now, paralegals will not attend to set date matters because of the long waiting times as the court will no longer permit our cases to be heard ahead of lawyers,” she says in her affadavit.

Question: What did she rely on to make you sit in the back

With respect to asking paralegals to sit behind the bar, Lippa says the effect has been to erode confidence in the public with their services. In her affadavit she says a client “may be left feeling that their interests have been hurt somehow, because they were assisted by a paralegal. As a licensed paralegal I am often confronted with clients who feel they are not being defended as well as if represented by counsel, when I, to be blunt, have to sit in the body of the court with them.”

Paralegals, who are licensed by the Law Society of Upper Canada, are also being barred from some Ontario Court of Justice law libraries and lawyers’ lounges “because we’re not members. Something is going on and it doesn’t speak to the collegiality we’re supposed to have amongst all licensees of the law Society. It’s abusive.”

Lippa says paralegals have been given a license by LSUC to appear in the Ontario Court of Justice and speak to summary conviction matters “yet when we go in to speak we’re told to stand at the back in front of the pubic and called three hours later. What impression does that give the public to have the paralegal represent them.”

Lippa’s application will be heard in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Newmarket on May 28.  She is represented by Anthony Muoustaclais.

For more information, contact Marion Lippa at: XXXX