Lawyer, 87, retires rather than submit to professional development rules

An 87-year-old Winnipeg lawyer who lost his fight against mandatory professional development rules says he will proudly go into retirement continuing his resistance.

"At a certain stage, I suppose it has to end. And I can't think of a more honourable way to leave the profession than to resist this program," said Sidney Green, who has been a lawyer for 62 years.

"This program is wrong, no matter what the Supreme Court of Canada says."

Green challenged the Law Society of Manitoba's requirement that members complete 12 hours of continuing professional development a year.

He just didn't do it.

"I objected to going to programs which were of no value to me," Green said. "And I don't regard the law society as an educational institution."

He didn't report any continuing professional development for 2012 or 2013, so on May 30, 2014, the law society told him to comply within 60 days or he would be automatically suspended from practising law, court documents say.

He was invited to correct any errors in his professional development record, but did not reply, so his licence was suspended on July 30, 2014.

Green did not apply for a judicial review of the decision to suspend him. Instead, he challenged the rules by applying for declaratory relief — essentially, to have the rules set aside.

"Mr. Green has challenged the impugned rules because he has no interest in complying with them," court documents state. "He argues that the impugned rules are unfair because they impose a suspension without a right to a hearing or a right of appeal."

The application was dismissed, so Green took the matter to the Court of Appeal, where it was also dismissed.

Then he sought, and was granted, leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. That decision was released Thursday and also went against Green, in a 5-2 split decision, dismissing his appeal.

"It proves that even the Supreme Court of Canada can be wrong," a persistent Green told CBC News. "I disagree with the program and that is still my position."

Although a suspension of the type handed to Green ends as soon a law society member complies with the rules, Green has no intention to do that.

"I'm not going to go [take lectures or courses] at the behest of the law society. It's a sham, and most lawyers agree with me, but they do it because they don't want to be suspended."

Up until about seven years ago, Green said, all professional development was voluntary and he even presented at some of the education sessions that were offered.

"They had, and have, no right to make it compulsory," he said, arguing there is no statutory authority to make it mandatory.

"So I will be the only lawyer that I know of in Canada suspended without the allegation of dishonesty or incompetence. I am unique in that regard, I believe."

Programs enhance public confidence

The Supreme Court found the rules to be fair and said law societies are required to protect members of the public who seek legal services "by establishing and enforcing educational standards for practising lawyers."

Professional development programs serve this public interest and enhance confidence in the legal profession, the ruling states.

As well, imposing a suspension for failing to comply with the rules without giving members a right to a hearing or a right of appeal is not unreasonable, the Supreme Court decision states.

"In fact, it is entirely consistent with the law society's duty to establish and enforce educational standards.

"While they may improve the currency of a lawyer's knowledge, these standards also protect the public interest by enhancing the integrity and professional responsibility of lawyers, and by promoting public confidence in the profession."

A suspension for not completing professional development is the least of any penalty. It's an administrative, not a disciplinary one, and is not recorded in a personnel record, so it is not likely to undermine public confidence in the lawyer or affect their career, the Supreme Court decision states.

"A reasonable member of the public would understand that a temporary suspension for failing to complete CPD hours is not akin to a more serious disciplinary suspension."