Court ruling advances notion of mandatory continuing professional education

Professional regulatory bodies with compulsory professional development programs (CPD), and those considering the same, may be heartened by a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision upholding the Law Society of Manitoba’s authority to impose 12 hours of compulsory professional development on members each year.

In April, the court heard the case of senior lawyer Sidney Green, who challenged the Manitoba law society’s CPD program on grounds it has no public interest value and that the society has no authority in its statutes to suspend members for non-compliance with CPD.

In a split decision, the court said the law society’s CPD rules are fair, and that it is proper for societies to protect members of the public who seek legal services by establishing and enforcing educational standards for practising lawyers.

“In light of the relevant provisions of the [Manitoba] act and practical concerns related to enforcing educational standards, the provisions of the rules establishing a mandatory CPD program that permit the suspension of a lawyer as a consequence for contravening those rules are not unreasonable,” the court said in its ruling.

The court also said the Manitoba law society is merely doing what it is required to do by statute—namely, regulate the education of lawyers in the public interest.

Green, in turn, decided to retire rather than take any CDP programs offered by the law society. In media reports, Green was quoted as saying, “I can’t think of a more honourable way to leave the [legal] profession than to resist this program.” He had been practising law since 1955.

A number of regulators across Canada have either imposed some form of mandatory professional development for members, or are considering similar programs.

PEO recently instituted its Practice Evaluation and Knowledge (PEAK) program that, while not compulsory, comes in response to pressure that all self-regulated professions require members to undertake life-long learning and professional development, but may eventually consider a mandatory CPD program by way of a member referendum.

Many other engineering regulators across Canada have already instituted some form of mandatory continuing professional education programs for membership.

Lawyer Bernard LeBlanc, LLB, of Steinecke Maciura LeBlanc, who has expertise in regulated professions and administrative law, says the case confirms that such CPD programs have become essential for regulated professions in Canada: “There has been growing political pressure that is probably more effective but I agree that the [Supreme Court of Canada] case certainly is consistent with the trends toward mandatory [quality assurance] requirements.”