When Derek Green, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of
Newfoundland and Labrador, stepped down on December 1, 2017, the province’s
judicial system received a signal that it was about to lose the contribution of
“a great legal mind and jurist,” as Justice Minister Andrew Parsons acknowledged
from the floor of the House of Assembly.
institutional leadership is too inviting to pass up. While this Blog spends far
too much energy chastising others in positions of governmental and
institutional leadership and pointing out their shortcomings, the system that
governs the application of the rule of law has, by contrast, been managed in a
way that exhibits intellectual depth, seriousness of purpose and unblemished integrity.
oblivious to their heightened obligations in the circumstance, it is reassuring
that our judicial system — though far from perfect — is a beacon to the country
and to the rest of the world. Judge
Green is surely one of the reasons such a claim is justified.
noted Green’s legal resume, his private legal practice, his tenure as chair of
the Newfoundland Law Reform Commission, and his role as counsel for two
commissions of inquiry in the 1980s.
commissioner of the more recent public inquiry into constituency allowances and
spending by members of the House of Assembly, his efforts to make the courts
more open and accessible to the public, and his advocacy for access to justice.”
the bench in 1992 and named Chief Justice of the Supreme Court’s trial division
in 2000. He took the helm at the Court of Appeal in 2009. Taken together, a
span of twenty-six years is a remarkable career even in the annals of Canadian
was his work following the events that threatened to undermine the public trust
in the House of Assembly.
integrity of elected Members and of the whole institution is paramount, Green’s
review was thorough and detailed. It resulted, many would agree, in a public
cleansing of that institution.
was, it did not define the Chief Justice or his long career. So how do we assess
the contribution of Judge Green? Most lawyers suggest that will be found in his
Normally it is only when a Judge arrives at the Court of Appeal
that their decisions rise to prominence. Green was credited with having an
acute sense of the development of the law. Perhaps for that reason, his decisions
were given notice and cited even when he was still a young trial judge. In
other words, he was distinguished from the beginning.
Court or in the course of hearing cases, Green had a capacity to consider the
whole body of law that operates in the province. There was never any doubt,
they say, that he had a view that was complete and unblemished in its clarity
as to the whole pattern of jurisprudence in NL.
Others, too, state that Green brought to the bench a level of scholarship that
was on par with any Justice in the country.
served on the Court of Appeals. Said he: “To me the distinguishing
characteristic of Derek is his humility. Blessed with an utterly brilliant
mind, this extraordinary learned scholar never showed even the slightest air of
impatience or arrogance towards contrary opinions to his own, from whence so
ever their provenance. Derek would seek out and invite differing opinions from
his own… Such is the earmark of true scholarship.”
legal thinker of our generation seems indisputable.
remarked: “What distinguished Judge Green was that he saw things both
broadly and deeply. He held a perspective on the immediate issue and on the larger
issue of legal development. He truly had a large perspective on law.”
have been lifelong friends. Penney is a former Deputy Minister of Justice and
Commissioner of the City of St. John’s. He also worked with Green when the
latter was Treasurer (now President) of the Law Society, and he was Executive
Director. Asked for his appraisal, Penney commented: “He is a person blessed
with a great intellect, honesty and personal integrity. He remains a judge and
should the occasion require he is someone we can call on again to lead an
enquiry into one or more of the important public policy issues which will no
doubt arise over the coming years.”
acknowledge those men and women whose careers have made a difference to our
society. But in a time of failing leadership and failing institutions, we need
to be more cognizant of the best leaders and hope that those like Mr. Justice Derek
Green will just keep on working.