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Law Society of Ontario's actions against applicants accused of cheating on bar exam violated 'procedural fairness,' court rules

Osgoode Hall is seen in Toronto on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel Osgoode Hall is seen in Toronto on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
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The Law Society of Ontario violated “procedural fairness” with some of the “punitive” measures it imposed on applicants accused of cheating on the bar exam two years ago.

The LSO previously voided the exam results of more than 100 candidates who wrote the November 2021 test after the law society said it had come to light that exam materials had been improperly accessed. The LSO accused the candidates of engaging in “prohibited actions” and also voided their registration in the licensing process while preventing them from re-applying for one year.

While the decision to void the test results was warranted, the other measures “substantially impacted the applicants to the point of being punitive,” read a divisional court decision released last week.

“It was a violation of procedural fairness to impose that level of consequence without holding a hearing or reaching a determination that the applicants had engaged in intentional misconduct,” the decision read.

“On the issue of remedy, we quash the LSO’s decisions other than the voiding of exam results and remit these matters to the LSO to determine next steps in accordance with these reasons.”

The LSO began conducting the exams online in the spring of 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. After it was discovered that test materials were being leaked, in-person exams resumed last year.

In the summer of 2022, the LSO launched a lawsuit against NCA Exam Guru, which provides bar exam test preparation. The company’s director, Mississauga resident Aamer Chaudhry, is also named in the suit. The LSO alleges that the company has “been obtaining and providing to those enrolled in its preparation courses documents containing questions from the licensing examinations.”

The LSO also accused the company of providing the answers to those questions, allowing clients to cheat on licensing examinations.

The decision notes that the applicants involved have “suffered a permanent stain on their reputation.”

“It has been almost two years since they wrote their exams. Their professional lives have been in limbo and they have undoubtedly suffered personally as a result,” the decision read.

It noted that the actions of the LSO could hurt candidates in terms of future employment prospects.

“The LSO highlighted that it would share the decision with legal regulators across Canada. Similarly, the finding of a regulatory sanction could prevent the Applicants from successfully applying to a different regulated profession where this would need to be disclosed,” the decision stated.

“A law firm interested in hiring an Applicant could ask questions that would elicit this history and then be dissuaded from hiring the lawyer or paralegal.”

The decision notes that while the LSO “faced an administrative challenge in this case,” that “cannot override the Applicants’ fundamental right to procedural fairness.”

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