Guide for Witnesses

What is the Law Society Tribunal?

 The Tribunal is an independent adjudicative body that makes decisions based on testimony and evidence in a similar way to courts or other administrative tribunals. Our mandate is to process, hear, and decide regulatory cases about Ontario lawyers, paralegals and licence applicants.

Since cases before the Tribunal relate to the regulation of lawyers and paralegals, most witness testimony will relate to the capacity, conduct, or character of the lawyer or paralegal (the “licensee”), or lawyer applicant or paralegal applicant (the “licence applicant”) who is the subject of the hearing.


What kinds of cases does the Tribunal hear?

 Most of the hearings before the Tribunal relate to licensee conduct – whether the licensee has violated the ethical rules that govern the professions. A conduct hearing could determine, for example, whether the licensee has mismanaged funds, advertised in a way that is false or misleading, failed to serve clients, or failed to co-operate with the Law Society, among other forms of misconduct.

The Tribunal also hears capacity cases, in which the panel determines whether the licensee is or was physically or mentally incapable of practising.

Licensing hearings are scheduled when the Law Society raises a concern about a licence applicant’s character (a person must be of “good character” to be granted a licence).

An interlocutory suspension or restriction hearing precedes some conduct or capacity hearings, when it is alleged that there is a significant risk to the public that would be reduced by suspending or restricting the lawyer or paralegal’s licence before the case is heard.

In addition to a Hearing Division, the Tribunal has an Appeal Division that hears appeals of decisions that either the licensee/licence applicant or the Law Society believes were decided incorrectly by the Hearing Division.


Who presides over Tribunal hearings?

 Tribunal members, or “adjudicators”, make up the panels that hear and decide Tribunal cases, similar to judges in the courts. They may be “benchers” (members of Convocation, the Law Society’s board of directors), or appointees. They are lawyers, paralegals, or lay people. Each panel is chosen by the Tribunal Chair, with an eye to representation, areas of expertise, and fairness. Panels can be made up of one adjudicator, three adjudicators, or five adjudicators. When there are multiple adjudicators on a panel, one of the adjudicators is assigned to lead the panel as chair.


What is a summons?

 A summons is a document that requires a witness to attend a hearing on a specified date and time to give evidence. Because the vast majority of Tribunal hearings are held online, via videoconference, witnesses can usually give evidence from any location that has a computer or phone, access to internet, and a degree of privacy.

Most witnesses before the Tribunal may be summonsed by either the Law Society or the licensee/licence applicant. Each summons will include essential information about the hearing, including the name of the “applicant” (the party who initiated the proceedings), the name of the “respondent” (the other party) and the name of the person who summonsed you, as well as any things that you’ll need to prepare for your testimony, such as documents or photographs. You may wish to show the summons to your employer if you need to arrange for time off. You do not need to have been summonsed to appear as a witness before the Tribunal; either of the parties can instead request your testimony in a less formal manner.

 If you have been summonsed, you are entitled to an attendance allowance of $50 for every day on which you testify. If you are required to testify in person at the Tribunal’s offices, you are also entitled to a travel allowance and, if you stay overnight, an overnight accommodation and meal allowance. You should receive these allowances, along with notice of whether the hearing will be online or in person, when you are served with the summons.


Do I have to testify?

 You must testify before the Tribunal if you’ve been summonsed, barring exceptional circumstances. Failure to appear on the date of your testimony could result in the Superior Court of Justice ordering a warrant for your arrest, or other punishments. If you have a scheduling conflict, you should speak with the person who summonsed you about alternative arrangements. In some cases, it is possible to testify by video conference, even if the hearing is occurring in-person.

If you believe that you should not be testifying at the hearing, you can bring a motion to “quash” the summons before the hearing. If you plan to pursue this course of action, you should do so as soon as possible, and you may wish to retain your own counsel. You or your counsel should write to the Tribunal, copying both the applicant and the respondent, to seek directions about the process for bringing a motion to quash.


What accommodations are available?

 The Tribunal will accommodate your needs as required under the Human Rights Code. If you are requesting accommodation, please get in touch with the Tribunal as soon as possible at

If you think you’ll need to refer to notes during your testimony, you should bring them and advise the parties and the panel that you have them with you. This practice is only allowed in certain circumstances. The panel may also permit a support person to sit next to you while you testify, though this person should not communicate with you while you are testifying.


Where are Tribunal hearings held?

 Most of our hearings are held online, via videoconference.

On some occasions, we hold hearings at our offices, which are located at 375 University Avenue, Suite 402, in Toronto, Ontario.

There are four hearing rooms at the Tribunal. To find your hearing room, check the screen in the reception area. If you’re unsure of where to go, feel free to ask a Tribunal staff member for help.


Zoom Guidelines

  • Witnesses should turn on their webcam and audio when they enter the hearing.
  • Witnesses should be alone in the room when giving testimony, unless accompanied by a support person who has been approved by the panel.
  • Please arrive on time for your testimony. The person who invited you to testify will tell you when to log on or arrive at the Tribunal offices.
  • When referring to anyone in the hearing room, please use the prefixes Mr., Ms. or Mx., or refer to participants using their full name. Names should be written on the Zoom screen.
  • Photography, video, or audio recording of the hearing is not allowed unless the panel has given its permission.
  • Always follow the instructions from the panel.
  • You may wish to discuss your planned attire with the person who summonsed you, but most participants in hearings dress in business wear.
  • All communication with witnesses by the parties must be respectful. Similarly, you must treat all other participants in the proceeding with respect.
  • For technical instructions about how to connect to videoconference via Zoom and how to use the Zoom platform, please see our Zoom Guide.


In-Person Hearing Guidelines

  • Please turn off your cell phone before entering the hearing room.
  • Refrain from speaking to or otherwise distracting the people participating in the hearing.
  • When referring to anyone in the hearing room, please use the prefixes Mr., Ms. or Mx., or refer to participants by their full name. There are name plates in front of each adjudicator on the panel to help you if you need to address them.
  • Hats or head coverings are not permitted in the hearing room, except for religious reasons.
  • Sunglasses are not permitted except for medical reasons.
  • Photography, video, or audio recording in the hearing room is not allowed unless the panel has given its permission.
  • No food or drink are allowed in the hearing room except for water, which will be given to you in advance of your testimony.
  • Always obey the instructions of the panel.
  • You may wish to discuss your planned attire with the person who summonsed you, but most participants in hearings dress in business wear.
  • All communication with witnesses by the parties must be respectful. Similarly, you must treat all other participants in the proceeding with respect.


What will happen in the hearing?

Before videoconference proceedings begin, witnesses are placed in a virtual waiting room until the host (usually the File Management Co-ordinator assigned to the case) lets them in.

At an in-person hearing, a Tribunal staff member will knock on the door before entering and ushering in the adjudicators, signalling those in attendance to stand for the arrival of the panel. The entrance of the panel indicates that the hearing has begun.

As a witness, you may be allowed to watch the proceedings until it is your turn to testify. In many cases, however, witnesses are “excluded” from watching other witnesses’ testimony so that they are not influenced by any other testimony.

Also at the hearing will be Law Society counsel and the licensee or licence applicant, who may be accompanied by their own counsel as well. There may also be visitors, including members of the public or members of the media. Other witnesses who have chosen to watch the proceedings after their testimony may also be present. The court reporter and the File Management Co-ordinator (FMC) will be in attendance as well. At in-person hearings, security will occasionally also be present.

When it is your turn to answer questions, your name will be called and you will be either advised to un-mute your microphone and turn on your webcam, or directed to the witness stand.  You will be asked to promise to testify truthfully, (an “affirmation”). If you’d prefer to swear an oath on a religious or spiritual text or object please advise the Tribunal. We have a Bible, Quran, Torah and Eagle Feather available upon request, or you may use your own religious or spiritual item.

Occasionally, witnesses will be asked to leave the hearing briefly during their testimony. If you are asked to enter a virtual breakout room or leave the room in which the hearing is taking place, remember that this is not a judgement of your behaviour or the content of your testimony; rather, it usually means that privileged or confidential information is being discussed. A staff member will let you back in when you can return.

The applicant’s case is presented first, followed by the respondent’s case. You will be questioned first by the party who requested your presence at the hearing (this is known as direct examination), then by the other party (this is known as cross-examination). If an objection is raised during your testimony, wait for the panel to rule on the objection before responding to the question. While you are on the witness stand, an adjudicator can ask you questions at any time.

A morning, lunch, and afternoon break will be ordered by the panel, though the timing and length of these breaks varies. Usually there is a fifteen minute break in the morning, a lunch break of one hour to one and a half hours and a fifteen minute break in the afternoon. If you need a break during your testimony, just let the panel know and they will accommodate you.


What do I need to know to give my testimony?

It is natural to feel nervous when answering questions in a hearing.  Take your time when you are giving evidence—there is no need to feel pressured. If you don’t understand a question, ask for it to be repeated or asked in another way.

Try to be as clear as possible when giving your testimony. Avoid phrases such as “I think” or “I guess”.  If you do not know the answer to a question, say so. You should also avoid giving opinions or drawing conclusions. The panel is only interested in the facts. Speak clearly and avoid nodding or shaking your head to indicate “yes” or “no”, as the hearing is being recorded to create a transcript.

If you become upset during your testimony, ask the panel for time to regain your composure. If you make a mistake in your evidence, inform the panel as quickly as possible so that the error may be corrected.

Unless the panel orders otherwise, your evidence may be given in writing, by affidavit. If you’re interested in giving evidence in writing you should speak to the party who summonsed you, as they would normally prepare the affidavit. Cross-examinations on witness affidavits usually take place before the panel at the hearing.


How should I prepare?

Before the hearing date, you may want to spend some time thinking about the interactions you had that are relevant to the case so that you’ll be prepared to answer any questions posed to you during examination and cross-examination. If you were asked in your summons to prepare any documents or things, you may also want to review them before the hearing.

You should only be asked questions that are relevant to the hearing; if you feel that a line of questioning is inappropriate, you may raise this with the panel. Keep in mind, however, that making objections is primarily the responsibility of the parties.


How long will my testimony take?

The party who summonsed you should have given you an indication of approximately how long your testimony will take, but it can be difficult to predict the duration of a hearing, so your presence may be required for more or fewer hours or days than expected. Occasionally a witness’ testimony must be postponed until the following day, though it is rare for it to be delayed longer than one day.

After your testimony is finished, you are free to leave, though you can stay to watch the rest of the proceedings as well.


Is what I say public?

Most hearings are open to the public; everything that is said is recorded by a court reporter, and anyone (yourself included) can order transcripts of the hearing after the fact. Once the panel makes its decision and writes the reasons for it, those are published publicly as well, and your testimony may be excerpted or summarized within.

However, as a witness in the hearing, you must not discuss the evidence you have given until your testimony is complete. If your testimony continues over the course of several days or is interrupted by a break in the hearing, you must wait until you have finished giving your testimony before you are permitted to discuss it with anyone, including the person who summonsed you or your own lawyer.