Paralegal fights for equal rights in Ontario Court of Justice

Toronto paralegal Marian 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 Barrister’s 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.

In her affidavit, Lippa says the JP told her that “court traditions required that counsel be given precedence before the court. The Justice remarked that I may not have been aware of those traditions, but that for ‘hundreds of years’ seating past the bar was reserved for counsel.” Read Affidavit  

Meanwhile, Lippa says Forrest relied on a paragraph in the Barrister’s Act that states matters shall be called in order of the lawyers’ call to the bar – that effectively leaves paralegals to go last, even if they turn up in court and sign in first at 9 a.m. See Barrister’s Act

Lippa says the effect has been that paralegals wait up to two to three hours to do a routine set date matter which diminishes their ability to be efficient for their clients and impedes their livelihood.

Lippa says that the bulk of 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 affidavit.

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 affidavit 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.”

Lippa says paralegals have been given a license by the Law Society of Upper Canada 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 with the pubic and called three hours later. What impression does that give the public to have the paralegal represent them.

“We are not called to the bar but we are issued a license, and that licensing year does not get included into the order of calling hierarchy,” says Lippa. “All we are asking is for that to be recognized.” She notes that other non-members of the bar like interpreters and articling students are still permitted to sit past the bar.

“The premise of the Access to Justice Act, that took years to come to pass to legislate paralegals, was to bring ‘public confidence to the role of paralegal,’” says Lippa. “Treating us like this in front of the public does just the opposite.”

She adds that paralegals 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.”

Lippa’s application will be heard in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Newmarket on Oct. 1. She is represented by Anthony Moustacalis.

For more information Marian Lippa can be reached at: 416-553-1584

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