I have recently completed my second and final three-year term as a member and director of the British Columbia Law Institute. I was a big fan to begin with, but having seen closer up how the organization works, I am a bigger fan coming out.
The purposes of the BCLI, as both described in its constitution, and in practice, are to:
· promote the clarification and simplification of the law and its adaptation to modern social needs,
· promote improvement of the administration of justice and respect for the rule of law, and
· promote and carry out scholarly legal research.
The BCLI is in its functions the successor to the British Columbia Law Reform Commission. When I first started practicing law, I had a very broad practice, and often had to learn different areas of law quickly. I discovered in my office various reports by the Law Reform Commission. The reports provided excellent, very readable summaries of the law, and found them a good starting point. Now that I have a much more focused practice, I find myself still looking at reports in my practice area of wills, estates, trusts and related litigation. For example, many of the provisions of the new, well relatively new, Wills, Estates and Succession Act were based on recommendations of the BCLI Report Wills, Estates and Succession: a Modern Framework. When I am trying to grapple with understanding the changes to B.C.’s succession law, I often turn to this Report to find out the underlying reasons for the changes, which in turn helps me better understand the legislation. Courts may also look at the Report as an aid in interpretation.
The membership of the organization is comprised of a broad cross section of our profession, including lawyers in private practice, from big firms and small, law professors, and notaries. The key to its success, though, is the quality of the staff lawyers, who provide a very high level of scholarship, and who write with tremendous clarity.
The BCLI is independent from government. It gets some of its funding from government, but also from private sector and from non-profit organizations such as the British Columbia Law Foundation.
When the BCLI takes on a project, there is usually a project committee set up. Each project committee includes one or more of the BCLI directors and staff, but also lawyers and other professionals with experience in the relevant area of law. The highlight of my involvement with the BCLI was serving on the project committee on the Project on Potential Undue Influence:Recommended Practices for Wills Practitioners, which was chaired by Peter Ramsay Q.C., with Greg Blue Q.C. as the project manager.
I am not going to try to mention all of the people involved with BCLI during my six years as a member. The chairs during that time were Peter Ramsay Q.C., Tino Di Bella, and Professor Joost Blom Q.C. Jim Emmerton was the executive director when I first came on, and, following Jim’s retirement, Kathleen Cunningham is now the executive director.
The BCLI is also responsible for the Canadian Centre forElder Law, which focuses on law reform and proving information of interest to older adults. Krista James is its national director.