Criminal Law

OBA criminal justice section lets lawyers broaden horizons

By Contributor

Toronto criminal lawyer Melanie Webb hopes to cultivate links across the bar during her term as chair of the Ontario Bar Association’s (OBA) Criminal Justice Section.

Webb, principal of Melanie J. Webb Barrister, and the incoming chair of the section for the 2019-2020 term, tells that the group’s meetings and continuing professional development (CPD) sessions, in particular, provide a great opportunity for lawyers to get to know other players in the justice system.

“Because we’re open to Crown and defence counsel, as well as any lawyer with an interest in criminal justice, you get the benefit of engaging in conversation about the law with people typically on the other side of the courtroom,” she says. “From my point of view, that has the effect of broadening horizons, and makes for a more collegial, and perhaps more informed approach as counsel.”

The section’s executive contains a mix of defence counsel and Crown lawyers and also welcomes representatives from the bench, as well as members of criminal-justice-related administrative tribunals, such as the Parole Board of Canada.

Webb points to the section’s recent annual general meeting as the perfect encapsulation of its mandate. Attendees heard from North York assistant Crown attorney Tanya Kranjc, and prominent defence lawyer Michael Lacy following the presentation by Webb of the OBA’s Criminal Justice Award to Crown attorney Miriam Henry.

As team lead of the Crowns’ office at 311 Jarvis Youth Court, Henry has overseen initiatives including the first dedicated Aboriginal Youth Court in Toronto and the Community Youth Court, which is designed to assist young people with mental health issues.

Like other OBA sections, the Criminal Justice Section makes regular submissions on legal issues and pending legislation. In the recent past, its members have regularly provided input on topics as varied as new bail centres and Toronto’s new downtown courthouse. The section also teams up with other OBA sections to comment on federal legislation via its parent organization — the Canadian Bar Association’s national criminal justice section.

Another aspect of the section’s work that will occupy Webb’s attention is the creation and hosting of CPD sessions, with the option for members to attend either in-person or online via webcasts.

“We’ve had a positive response to programs that focus on practical approaches to criminal law, and we will be looking to put on more sessions that are relevant to our members, especially junior and intermediate lawyers,” she says, noting that the Criminal Justice Section will occasionally team up with others, such as the Family Law or Immigration Sections, to discuss areas where their practices overlap.

The section also puts together a regular newsletter, which goes out several times a year to members via email to members. The newsletter encompasses discussion and review of recent important legal decisions and developments in criminal law.

Webb says she expects a busy year to stay on top of all her responsibilities as chair.

“We’re a volunteer executive, and it typically takes quite a bit of work, but it’s a very rewarding role,” she says.

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