UPDATED: Judge rules in TWU’s favour on law school

The decision would allow TWU-trained lawyers to practice in B.C.

A judge has sided with Trinity Western University and overturned a B.C. Law Society decision to not accredit their future law students.

In the 43-page decision, Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson found that the Law Society’s ruling body, its benchers, acted improperly by giving up their authority in the matter.

Hinkson quashed their second decision, to deny TWU accreditation, and restored the results of an April 2014 vote by the benchers to accept TWU as a new law school.

At issue in the fight is TWU’s Community Covenant, which new students and staff are required to sign.

The covenant, among other things, bans sexual intercourse between anyone other than married men and women.

At a hearing earlier this year before Hinkson, the Law Society argued the covenant is discriminatory and runs contrary to equality rights of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning) people. The code “seriously undermines the integrity and the foundation of the administration of justice,” the society said.

Hinkson spent little space in his 43-page ruling directly addressing the covenant.

Instead, he looked at whether or not the Law Society should have made the decision the way it did.

The benchers originally allowed TWU’s accreditation. B.C. laywers objected, and the benchers eventually changed their decision following a referendum in which a sizeable majority of B.C. Law Society members voted against accrediting TWU.

Hinkson found that while the benchers had weighed competing Canadian Charter of Rights issues, he couldn’t say the same for that of the Law Society’s members.

The benchers “improperly fettered their discretion” by delegating the decision to the Law Society through the vote, Hinkson found.

Even if that had not been the case, Hinkson found that the Law Society members at large did not consider balancing charter rights in their decision.

TWU representatives were pleased with the ruling.

“This decision is important to the public and the legal profession,” said Law Society president Ken Walker. “We will be reviewing the reasons for judgment carefully and consulting with our legal counsel regarding next steps.”

“We’re very pleased that the court recognized the errors made by the Law Society,” said Earl Phillips, the executive director of TWU’s proposed law school.

Phillips said the evidence showed that TWU teaches its students to live with a high level of integrity.

Currently, TWU is still locked in a similar legal dispute with Ontario after its law society also refused to accredit the university’s law students.

The law school was supposed to have opened already, but the numerous legal wrangles have delayed it.

 

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