Do we need a SIU ‘Special Investigations Unit’ to investigate criminal allegations against lawyers?
“Fostering public confidence by ensuring thorough and independent investigations that stand up to public scrutiny.”
For good reasons Canadians are reluctant to allow the police to investigate themselves when allegations of serious criminal offences by police officers surface. In Ontario we have the ‘SIU’ or ‘Special Investigations Unit’ to provide a level of public confidence that in the most serious cases, the police are not protecting their own over the public interest.
The SIU’s website states:
When police officers are involved in incidents where someone has been seriously injured, dies or alleges sexual assault, the SIU has the statutory mandate to conduct independent investigations to determine whether a criminal offence took place. The effective fulfilment of this mandate, with all of its associated challenges, remains critical to fostering public confidence in policing in the province by ensuring thorough and independent investigations that stand up to public scrutiny.
Even so, the SIU’s mandate and resources are far more restricted than many citizens would desire, but at least in the most serious cases there is independent investigation and oversight of the police.
That is not the case with the legal profession, where the lawyers themselves are tasked with investigating, charging, judging and sentencing of their fellow lawyers; the ones they went to law school with, articled and partied with and work and live with in the same professional and social circles.
How is ‘self-policing’ working out for Ontario’s lawyers?
According to court documents filed In the Donald Best contempt of court case, over a hundred Ontario lawyers refused to represent Mr. Best after they discovered that he had voice recordings of telephone conversations that proved several Ontario lawyers fabricated evidence and advertently lied to the court, resulting in Mr. Best’s conviction in absentia (in his absence) for contempt of court. (Background story here)
When Mr. Best wrote to senior officials of the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) explaining the situation and asking for assistance, LSUC sent him a form letter advising that Mr. Best should call the LSUC help telephone line for names and telephone numbers of random lawyers. 20121128 LSUC Best Letters (PDF 489kb)
Today a CBC News article provides another sad tale of the Law Society of Upper Canada apparently putting the public interest as secondary to their responsibility to the public. Angelika Opic lost $25,000 after the Law Society of Upper Canada recommended to her a lawyer named Michael Munro. According to the CBC News, the law society knew that Munro was facing multiple serious charges, yet that organization recommended Mr. Munro to his next victim: Angelika Opic.
Have a read and see what you think. Is it time for independent oversight of Ontario’s lawyers?
Clients of two lawyers accused of serious misconduct are outraged over being kept in the dark about their lawyers’ records, which they said derailed their cases and cost them thousands.
“I got scammed by a lawyer, and the law society told me he was fine. That’s what really hurts a lot,” said Vancouver resident Angelika Opic.
She hired Toronto lawyer Michael Munro after being led to believe he had a clean record by the regulator.
Before hiring Munro to contest the will, she contacted the Law Society of Upper Canada, asking about his record. She was told he was in good standing.
She wasn’t told Munro had been under heavy scrutiny since 2012, because of eight serious complaints against him.
Full story by Kathy Tomlinson at CBC News: Clients feel scammed as alleged lawyer misconduct kept quiet