The organization which regulates lawyers in Quebec will be in court with one of its own members on Thursday.
The Barreau du Quebec is asking the Court of Appeal to overturn a Superior Court decision which ordered the Bar to give one of its former students a corrected copy of an exam she wrote and an English-language marking grid for the exam.
The Quebec Bar requires potential lawyers to take a four-month training course and pass an exam, after they graduate from law school before they are allowed to practice in the province. They must also article, or intern, for six months. While every province, except for Ontario, requires potential lawyers to take a training course, Quebec’s is the most expensive and the most intensive. Quebec also has the shortest articling period, with most provinces requiring 12 months.
Meena Khan sued the Bar after failing the exam in 2006, after the Bar refused to provide her with the correct answers in English and return her corrected exam. She argued the practice was unfair to students who wrote the exam in English and was not transparent, and that students could not be convinced the corrections to their exams were valid.
While the director of the exam centre did meet with Khan, she would only explain the correct answers, not the specifics of where Khan went wrong. Khan was not allowed to make notes during the meeting or bring a lawyer who specialized in the area where she scored the lowest, labour law.
Khan claimed that the Bar’s refusal to give her the corrected exam was motivated by a desire to reuse the questions in future exams in an effort to save money.
She also said the Bar’s approach was designed to reduce the number of lawyers in Quebec and artificially raise the fees that customers pay for lawyers.
Khan told the court this was “likely to cause, in the public mind, a doubt about the intention of the Bar and cause a decrease in [public] confidence in this institution.”
Last spring, Superior Court Judge Jeannine Rousseau agreed with Khan, who had since passed the exam and become a lawyer, ruling that the Bar’s decision was unfair and was motivated by financial, rather than educational, considerations.
The Bar argued that Khan had failed the exam because she did not take an optional prep course, which the Bar had recommended she take, and that she had too many extra-curricular activities. However Justice Rousseau dismissed the relevance of these claims.
In their appeal the Bar is arguing that the Rousseau’s decision was wrong because Bar students do not have a legal right to the answers in English or to their corrected exams. They are also arguing that the decision is not in accordance with the legal tradition in Canadian and Quebec of not interfering in the academic sphere of educational institutions. In addition, the Bar is arguing that Quebec’s access to information laws allow public organizations to keep some documents confidential and that Justice Rousseau should have recognized the credentials of an evaluation expert the Bar called as a witness. Rousseau dismissed witness Louise Arsenault’s testimony because she has worked as a consultant for the Bar