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Court considers paralegals
August 28, 1999
The Ontario Court of Appeal has held that people
who choose to be represented by agents rather than lawyers give
up their constitutional right to effective representation. However,
an accused who hires an agent retains his right to a fair trial.
In the decision, released August 27, 1999, the
court ruled that judges can disqualify agents from acting in summary
conviction proceedings where necessary to protect the accused's
right to a fair trial, such as where the agent is incompetent
or disreputable. A judge may have to declare a mistrial if the
incompetence becomes apparent only after proceedings commence.
Summary conviction proceedings include minor
offences such as shoplifting and simple assault. But they can
also involve very serious charges such as drinking and driving,
sexual assault, assault with a weapon, uttering threats and forgery.
Trial judges do not have to inquire into the
competence of agents who represent people charged with criminal
offences, the court said. However, the trial judge should satisfy
himself or herself that the accused's decision to hire an agent
was an informed one.
The court criticized the government for its failure
to regulate paralegals. "A person who wants to sell t-shirts
on the sidewalk needs a licence....that same person can, however,
without any form of government regulation, represent a person
in a complicated criminal case where that person may be sentenced
to up to 18 months imprisonment.
"Continued legislative inaction suggests
indifference to the proper administration of criminal justice
in summary conviction proceedings."
In April 2002, legal and and paralegal groups proposed a framework to regulate paralegals in Ontario. Regulation would include requirements for education and training, accreditation, licensing, insurance, a code of conduct and a disciplinary process. The Law Society of Upper Canada will be reviewing the proposal.
Disclaimer: The material on this site is not intended as legal advice. It merely conveys general information on legal issues commonly encountered by persons facing criminal charges in Canada. If you are charged with an offence, you should contact a criminal lawyer.