Paralegals serve an important function in our judicial system, providing cost-effective and professional services for simple and routine matters in litigation. Yet even these matters require a significant amount of advocacy, as paralegals in Ontario conduct complete trials and hearings in small claims court or administrative tribunals.
Paralegal students get some training in advocacy in their educational, and this education is now a mandatory prerequisite to licensing in Ontario. What they don’t usually get is the opportunity to hone and test their advocacy skills in a competition between schools.
Today we completed what was likely the first appellate moot competition specifically for paralegal students. The Paralegal Society of Ontario (PSO) Intercollegiate Mooting Competition was held this weekend at Humber College – Lakeshore Campus. The case was Bedford v. Canada, which is currently awaiting judgement from the Supreme Court of Canada. The competition focused on the s. 1 analysis of s. 210 of the Criminal Code and the policy implications of removing this section from the Code.
Although paralegals in Ontario do not typically engage in appellate advocacy in practice, and their current scope is limited to only the summary conviction offences under s. 210, the structure allowed paralegal students to academically engage in the issues in a highly structured fashion. More importantly, it provided students what was often their first experience responding to complex legal questions from mock judges in a courtroom setting.
In 2007 Ontario became the first jurisdiction in North America to regulate paralegals. Moot competitions have long been the mainstay of developing advocacy skills for law students, and competitions for paralegal students to help enhance their skills is an important step in ensuring competency. These competitions will go further in ensuring that the public interest is protected by providing valuable skills before licensing, and allow students a taste of what courtroom advocacy can feel like.