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Publication Date


Publication Title

Queen's Law Journal



First Page



legal profession, human rights, canadian law societies, law societies, protection of human rights, international human rights

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This paper explores Canadian law societies’ involvement in human rights protection and promotion abroad. The authors identify strategies for provincial law societies to contribute overseas, and point out the challenges with adopting such an international focus.

The rationale for law societies’ involvement in human rights comes from the expectation that they will regulate in the public interest. In today’s globally interconnected world, there are few remaining domestic legal solitudes. Clients come from diverse backgrounds, and legal transactions regularly take place across jurisdictional boundaries. To fulfill their mandate for social responsibility, Canadian provincial law societies can no longer ignore threats to the legal profession abroad. Canadian lawyers must be educated about challenges to human rights and the rule of law internationally, and must be encouraged to combat them.

Using the Law Society of England and Wales as an example, the authors explore the strengths and weaknesses of various means of contribution, such as letter writing, awareness-raising initiatives, institutional partnerships and rule of law development projects. Challenges that law societies face in establishing an international framework for human rights promotion include the lack of an express mandate, limited resources and the risk that international focus will detract from local concerns. Law societies must keep these challenges in mind, but not be deterred from creating a well-defined long-term strategy for addressing human rights threats internationally. The authors recommend that provincial law societies establish a single body in which they can combine their resources to focus on areas where the credibility and expertise of Canadian lawyers would enable them to make a real contribution. They also recommend building networks with non-governmental organizations that are active in the area of human rights. Drawing on the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers would help to minimize political pressures and to form a definition of issues that are within the legal profession’s mandate.