|Judgment about women lawyers|
| Article about a judgment of Henri Césaire Saint-Pierre,
in the possession of Suzanne Montel and transcribed by Jacques Beaulieu,
both great-grand-children of same.
FEBRUARY 13, 1915
LEGAL PROFESSION CLOSED TO WOMEN
Rules Mr. Justice Saint-Pierre in Suit of Mrs. Langstaff vs. Provincial Bar
PUBLIC ORDER AT STAKE
His Lordship, Holding Womankind Too Sacred to Be broiled in Forensic Arena
"I hold that to admit a woman, and more particularly a married woman, as a barrister - that is to say, as a person who pleads cases at the bar before judges and juries in open court and in the presence of the public, would be nothing short of a direct infringement of public order and a manifest violation of the law of good morals and public decency," said the Hon. Mr. Justice Saint Pierre yesterday in dismissing the petition of Mrs. Annie McDonald Langstaff, who applied for a writ of mandamus for the purpose of forcing the bar of the province to allow her to take the examinations for admission to the study of law.
"The proof filed in the record," proceeded His Lordship, after giving an exhaustive review of the law and jurisprudence on the question, "shows that the petitioner in the present case is a young woman of good morals and that she ls possessed of considerable ability. After what I have said, she will no doubt understand that her ambition In life should be directed towards the seeking of a field of labor more suitable to her sex and more likely to ensure, for her the success in life to which her irreproachable conduct and remarkable talents give her a right to aspire."
It is understood that an appeal from Mr. Justice Saint Pierre's ruling will, be forthwith entered, It being the intention of petitioner to make a test case in order to ascertain once and for all the rights of the more exquisite sex in the matter. The circumstances leading up to the case, it will be recalled, were that Mrs. Langstaff, after showing exceptional aptitude for law whilst in the service of the firm of Jacobs, Hall, Couture & Co., pursued a course of studies at McGill and was graduated with high standing. When she applied for admission to the examinations she was refused.
The bar based its reply to her petition for a mandamus on three points:lst. - That the board of examiners, being appointed by the council of the various sections of the bar, it followed that no order directed against the general corporation of the bar could if granted, be susceptible of being carried into effect; the general corporation of the bar having no power to compel the board of examiners to carry out the order in question;
2nd. - The board of examiners having discretionary power as to the advisability of admitting or rejecting any of the candidates and there being no appeal from their ruling, the court was without jurisdiction or authority to hear the present complaint by way of mandamus or otherwise;
3rd. and lastly, that the petitioner was a woman, and, what was still more objectionable, a woman still under marital control, her demand for admission to the study and practice of law could not he entertained for the reason that the admissibility of females as barristers or attorneys is not within the purview of the Bar act of the Province of Quebec.
On the first point, His Lordship, after making copious citations of the existing law, found in favor of the respondent. Mrs. Langstaff's petition, said His Lordship, should have been directed against (1) the board of examiners, (2) against the section of Quebec and (3) against the general corporation of the bar. The bar of the province being the only moral entity before the court, His Lordship declared that he failed to see how an order of the court, given to such a body, could effectively bring ahout the result prayed for by the petitioner.
On the second point His Lordship found against the respondent. It was conceded that the only reason why Mrs. Langstaff had been refused admission to the examination was that she was a woman. The contention of the examiners was that by law no female could be admitted either as a student or member of the legal profession. The examiners, therefore, simply applied the law as they understood it to read; they accordingly did not exercise any discretion and, added His Lordship. they had none to exercise.
On the third point His Lordship found against the petitioner, and it was with the discussion of this point that the lengthy judgment principally dealt. His Lordship reviewed the law on the question, as far back as the days of the Romans, and made reference to the legislation down the centuries throughout the various countries of Europe. He also quoted at length a decision of Chief Justice Ryan, of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, wherein womankind, was eulogized as too sacred to be embroiled in the contentious arena of Dame Themis. Lengthy reference was made to the incongruous position which a woman would occupy in handling any of the sordid cases which would be liable to be entrusted to her as a barrister, His Lordship declared that in certain cases a woman would expose womankind to indignity and disrespect. After reviewing the history of the legal profession, and pointing out that, up to the time of the passage of the Bar Act of the Province of Quebec, no wonan had launched herself upon the practice of law, His Lordship proceeded to interpret the word "He" as contained in the Bar Act. Mrs. Langstart contended that "He" as in the Bible and in all law, meant "person" and hence included "she."
"The usage," proceeded His Lordship, "which reigned Supreme at the date when the Bar Act of the Province of Quebec was passed was not one peculiar to our country, but a universal one thoughout the whole civilized world as far back as the memory of men could reach. Nowhere had it ever been known that women had shared with the male sex the fortunes and struggles of the forum or of the courts of justice. The natural inference to be drawn, therefore, is that, at the time when the law of 1849 was framed, it was so framed to be carried into effect in the manner and form which usage had consecrated for thousands of years, and not otherwise. The law which was enacted at that date was not a new law intended to remedy certain evils which existed in the past. No complaint had been made on the part ot persons of the female sex. The object in view was simply to organize the members of the legal profession into a body without introducing any new dispositions as to who should be considered as an advocate, a barrister, a solicitor or an attorney. While speaking of the usage which prevailed at the time I might refer briefly to the law in France and in England on the subject under consideration. In Eng1and no woman was ever admitted as a member of the profession and no woman can be admitted under the Common Law. (See Bebb vs. The Law Society, Court of Appeal. The Canadian Law Times, vol, 34, page 620.) In France, where the Salic Law prevailed, the exclusion of women from 'l'ordre des avocats' under the various coutumes was no less stringent under those 'coutumes' than it was under the common law of England. No woman could even fill the functions ot tutrix to a minor child, except to her own, and during widow-hood only and always under the supervision of a sub-tutor, who in every case was a person of the male sex. No woman could even form part of the family council convened for the appointment of a tutor to a minor child, except her own and during widowhood only. Those dispositions of the old 'coutume' have been preserved to this day and are to be found in our Civil Code at the present time. The distance is a wide one, indeed, from the right to attend at a family council and that of assuming the responsabilities of attorney, counsel or barrister."
S. W. Jacob, K. C., for petitioner; Francois de Sales Bastien, K. C., batonnier general, and R. C. Smith, K.C., for respondent.