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Paralegal application dismissed

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An application to overturn a Justice of the Peace’s decision and amend the Barristers Act to ensure paralegals share equal status with lawyers in court has been dismissed, says Toronto paralegal Marian Lippa.

Lippa launched the Certiorari application in Newmarket Superior Court to overturn JP G.M.K. Forrest’s decision banning paralegals from sitting past the bar and for requiring paralegals be called in accordance with the Barristers Act to handle criminal matters.  See Barristers ActSee Prior Story

Justice Michelle Fuerst dismissed the application, finding that despite licensing, paralegals are “not barristers and solicitors.”  Read R. v. Lippa

“The fact that paralegals are regulated and licensed by the Law Society of Upper Canada and that they provide certain legal services to the public does not make them lawyers,” the decision reads. “They are not authorized to provide the broad scope of legal services performed by lawyers.”

The York Region Law Association and Criminal Lawyers’ Association intervened in the case.

Lippa notes that since Forrest’s decision 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. She says Forrest relied on a paragraph in the Barristers 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.

It’s up to each presiding judge in the courtroom to decide whether to invoke this portion of the Barristers Act, says Lippa, noting after Fuerst’s decision this week, she’s “hopeful that the courts that have never invoked the act or sitting past the bar won’t start now.”

What are Lippa’s next steps?

“We’re going to file an appeal and we’re going to be consulting with the Attorney General’s office regarding amendments to the Barristers Act,” she says.

Lippa has said she waged this battle on behalf of all of Ontario’s paralegals, and she’s not discouraged by the latest development.

“This needed to be done to bring attention to everyone about the discrimination that paralegals are facing in the criminal court, and even though the case didn’t succeed, it’s brought attention to this issue,” she says. “If anything, I can be proud of that.”