If your complaint against a lawyer was dismissed, you may be able to appeal that decision.
Please review the Step-by-Step Process and the Frequently Asked Questions sections below to address any questions or concerns you may have regarding the appeal process. Disagreeing with the decision to dismiss your complaint is not a ground for appeal.
1) The Appeal Panel
A. The Appeal Panel: Complaint Dismissal Appeals are decided by a panel of three members of the Appeal Committee. These three members are called the Appeal Panel. One member of each Appeal Panel will be designated as the Chair of that panel. The members of the Appeal Committee are Benchers of the Law Society. Benchers are the directors of the Law Society and are either elected or appointed lawyers or members of the public appointed by the Government.
B. Conflict of Interest: Appeal Committee members do not sit on Appeal Panels where they believe a reasonable apprehension of bias or conflict of interest may exist.
Once an Appeal Panel has been assigned to a Complaint Dismissal Appeal, the complainant and the lawyer against whom the complaint was made will be provided with the names of the Appeal Panel members and given an opportunity to raise any objections to the composition of the Appeal Panel. Reasons for the objection(s) must be made in writing within 7 days from the date of the Notice of Appointment and must include the following:
i. identification of whom the conflict is with;
ii. an explanation of the basis for the conflict; and
iii. any supporting documentation pertaining to the conflict.
The Appeal Panel will be notified if objections are raised and will make rulings on objections before deciding the appeal. The Appeal Panel will include its rulings on any objections as part of its written decision (Rule 86(7)).
C. Authority: The Appeal Panel will review the Law Society’s complete file regarding your complaint.
The Appeal Panel can:
i. confirm the direction to dismiss your complaint; or
ii. refer the complaint to the Conduct Committee for further action.
The Appeal Panel cannot:
i. review new complaints;
ii. conduct a further investigation of your complaint;
iii. make any findings against the lawyer you complained about; or
iv. authorize any disciplinary action against the lawyer your complaint is about.
2) The Appeal
A. Appeal Without Oral Submissions: Complaint Dismissal Appeals are in writing. There is no oral hearing and no oral submissions unless requested by the Appeal Panel.
If an oral hearing or oral submissions are requested by the Appeal Panel, then the complainant, the lawyer against whom the complaint was made and counsel for the Law Society will be invited to attend for an oral hearing or to make oral submissions.
B. Involvement of the Lawyer: The appeal is not an adversarial process between the complainant and the lawyer against whom the complaint was made. The lawyer does not need to participate in the appeal process and the Appeal Panel will not make an adverse inference against the lawyer if the lawyer chooses not to participate.
C. Standard of Review: The standard of review is reasonableness. This means that the Appeal Panel needs to decide if the Executive Director’s/Delegate of the Executive Director’s direction to dismiss the complaint was reasonable in all the circumstances. It is important to understand that the Appeal Panel is not reconsidering the complaint and applying its own judgment. It is assessing whether the direction to dismiss the complaint was reasonable.
D. New Evidence: If necessary, the Appeal Panel will review new evidence. In order for new evidence to be considered, it cannot have been available to the complainant before the complaint was dismissed. If you provide new evidence with your Complaint Dismissal Appeal Form, you must clearly identify it and explain how you meet the following requirements of the fresh evidence test:
i. The evidence must not have been reasonably available prior to the dismissal of your complaint;
ii. The evidence must be relevant;
iii. The evidence must be credible; and
iv. The evidence could reasonably be expected to have affected the result.
If you do not follow the above directions or if the Appeal Panel determines that the test has not been met, the Appeal Panel will not consider the new evidence.
Please attach submissions in PDF or Word formats only. In order to protect our secure servers, we will not open any links, including links to web pages or cloud storage. Any materials submitted in this manner will not be considered. If you need more information, please contact the Tribunal Office.
3) Resolution of the Appeal
A. Possible Outcomes: There are only two possible outcomes for a Complaint Dismissal Appeal. The Appeal Panel can direct:
i. that the complaint be dismissed, or
ii. that the appeal be allowed.
If the appeal is allowed, then the matter is referred to the Conduct Committee, which will review the complaint under Section 56 of the Legal Profession Act.
B. Appeal Panel Decision (written decision): Appeals are reviewed in the order they are received. It generally takes four to five months for an appeal to be decided. Your appeal may take more or less time depending on the number of appeals that were sent to the Law Society ahead of your appeal.
The Appeal Panel will deliver the written decision to the Executive Director or Delegate of the Executive Director. The Executive Director is responsible for ensuring that a copy of the written decision is provided to both the complainant and the lawyer against whom the complaint was made.
C. No Further Appeal: The decision of the Appeal Panel is final and there is no further appeal. Section 57 of the Legal Profession Act may allow for further re-examination in very rare circumstances where there is evidence that a significant factual or legal element was overlooked or unknown at the time the complaint was dismissed.
Frequently Asked Questions
A complaint dismissal can only be appealed by the person who filed the initial complaint or by a lawyer representing that person.
No. The Law Society has created a user-friendly form to simplify appeals so that complainants do not need to hire a lawyer in order to appeal. Complainants may hire a lawyer to assist them, but it is not required.
It is important to understand the role of complainants in the regulation of the lawyer’s conduct. Complainants are not parties to the regulation process like they can be in a civil court action. They cannot direct how the Law Society will deal with the lawyer’s conduct. That is the job of the Law Society. Disagreeing with the decision of the Executive Director/Delegate of Executive Director to dismiss a complaint is not a ground to appeal.
However, complainants can be valuable witnesses and can bring important information forward that will allow the Law Society to deal with a lawyer’s conduct. The purpose of a Complaint Dismissal Appeal is to determine if the decision to dismiss your complaint was reasonable in all of the circumstances and in light of all of the information available at the time of the review. An appeal generally looks at whether the review was adequate and whether the direction to dismiss your complaint was reasonable based on the information available. It is not a fresh review of your complaint. The grounds for an appeal can include: inadequate review; failure to consider important facts; failure to properly apply the Code of Conduct or The Rules of the Law Society of Alberta; and/or new evidence that was not available before the complaint was dismissed.
To file an appeal of the direction to dismiss your complaint, you need to fill out the Complaint Dismissal Appeal Form, which would have been provided to you with the letter dismissing your complaint. You will need to complete and return the Complaint Dismissal Appeal Form by email or mail to the Law Society within 30 days of receiving the letter dismissing your complaint. The Complaint Dismissal Appeal Form must be used. Letters, email messages or other communications will not be accepted as a substitute for the Complaint Dismissal Appeal Form.
Information and/or documentation you previously submitted to the Law Society will not be accepted. There is no need to provide additional copies as the Appeal Panel will be provided with everything you have previously submitted to the Law Society. Please note that no further submissions will be accepted after you have completed and submitted your Complaint Dismissal Appeal Form.
If your appeal is based on new evidence that was not available before your complaint was dismissed, you can provide the new evidence in your Complaint Dismissal Appeal Form or attach copies of the new evidence to your Complaint Dismissal Appeal Form. Please see the section New Evidence in the Step by Step Process.
The Complaint Dismissal Appeal Form must be returned to the Law Society within 30 days of the date you are deemed to have received the letter dismissing your complaint.
The Chair of the Appeal Committee has the discretion to extend the time for delivery of the Complaint Dismissal Appeal Form, but extensions will be granted only in extraordinary circumstances. In order for the deadline to be extended, you will need to prove that something beyond your control prevented you from returning the Complaint Dismissal Appeal Form by the deadline. Requests for an extension of the deadline should be made before the time limit expires. A request for an extension should be in writing and sent to the Tribunal Office.
Will my Complaint Dismissal Appeal Form and the information I provide be given to the lawyer my complaint is about?
The lawyer your complaint is about will be advised that you have appealed. They will be provided with a copy of your Complaint Dismissal Appeal Form and will be given an opportunity to make written submissions in response.
If the lawyer chooses to make submissions, the submissions will be made using the Complaint Dismissal Appeal Reply Form.
You will not have an opportunity to respond to the Complaint Dismissal Appeal Reply Form.
Are there any other resources available to help me understand more about complaint dismissal appeals?