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Working Paper

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This paper explores the significance of the changing nature of the good character requirement for law society admission in Canada. It posits that good character has shifted from a philosophical concept into a psychological concept, with evidence of past bad acts claimed to be relevant for whether an applicant represents a future risk to the public. This shifting conception of character has, however, been only partial, and the decision-making processes of Canadian law societies have not kept pace with it. Instead, the decision-making process defines character generally and generically, with only occasional emphasis on character as a relevant predictor of future behaviour. In addition, law societies only rarely employ psychological evidence in their decision-making processes, and when they do employ such evidence seem uncertain as to its relevance and utility. The paper examines whether law societies should embrace a more overt recognition of character as a psychological concept. It reviews how psychological evidence is used in the context of determinations of custody and dangerousness, and the success (or, as it turns out, the failure) of psychological evidence as an aid to fair and accurate decision-making in those circumstances. In the end, the paper concludes that while treating good character as a psychological standard is the only way to make the requirement logical and justifiable in light of the purposes it is said to fulfill, the employment of a psychological standard is fraught with difficulty. There is, in the end, no reason to believe that a psychology based approach will lead to more coherent and fair decision-making. Given that, and given the significant issues with a non-psychological concept of character, the case for retaining a good character requirement for bar admission is weak.