Section three of the Legal Profession Act couldn't be clearer. It states that the "public interest is paramount".
The act also bluntly declares that the object and the duty of the Law Society of B.C. is "to uphold and protect the public interest in the administration of justice by preserving and protecting the rights and freedoms of all persons".
However, a recent speech by Chief Justice Lance Finch suggests that the rights and freedoms of all persons are not being upheld and protected.
That's because there are not enough lawyers. As a result of restrictions on law-school admissions, Finch indicated that the existing crop of barristers and solicitors can cream off the most lucrative work, leaving significant numbers of people unrepresented.
Finch may be speaking out about this because it's frustrating for judges to deal with unrepresented litigants, who are beginning to clog the courts.
It's a lot easier for judges to listen to the arguments of lawyers who understand the court's procedures and rules.
"The restricted supply is a systemic failure on the part of the legal profession’s governing body to ensure that legal services are available to all who need them," Finch said in his speech. "That is what the public interest demands. And I suggest that is what the profession must deliver."
One might conclude from Finch's remarks that the law society has failed to protect the public interest by not taking appropriate action—such as lobbying the B.C. government to sharply increase law-school admissions—to preserve and protect the rights and freedoms of all persons.
Finch more or less acknowledged this by saying: "It is also morally wrong that some are able to enforce or defend their civil rights while others, based solely on their inability to pay, are denied access to justice."
If the law society has failed to uphold and protect the public interest (as required in the Legal Profession Act), it could open the door for someone who has been denied justice to bring an action before the courts.
Under the Judicial Review Procedure Act, a person could file a petition in B.C. Supreme Court seeking a court order forcing the law society to act in the public interest in accordance with the Legal Profession Act.
Given what Finch has said, it's not too farfetched to suggest that an unrepresented litigant might even seek damages from the law society for allegedly not fulfilling its statutory duty to protect the rights and freedoms of all persons. Perhaps Finch's recent speech could be cited by this unrepresented litigant in his or her arguments before the court.
If the judge dismissed the petition, this person could seek leave to appeal in the B.C. Court of Appeal, which Finch oversees as chief justice.
Would Finch absent himself from assigning this appeal to any judges, given that he has already spoken publicly on the matter? Or would he assign the case to himself to send a message to the law society?
There's a reason why judges don't comment publicly on issues that could come before their courts. Finch probably thought he was acting in the public interest by highlighting the law society's failure to address the shortage of lawyers in B.C. But he has put himself in an awkward position should this matter ever be litigated.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.