Memorial University recently awarded Honorary Degrees to ten recipients whose distinguished careers afforded extraordinary contributions not just to their professions, but to Canadian — and more specifically to Newfoundland and Labrador — society.
One recipient, whose contribution to the law and to our political institutions deserves particular notice, is Derek Green, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador. He has previously been recognized on this Blog.
When preservation of rights and the protection of society is required; when governments become arbitrary and secretive, advancing self-interests, subverting the collective interest, giving their proxies unfettered latitude, invoking the need for Judicial clarity; when all else fails, our only resort, except for the ballot box, is protection under the “rule of law”.
Naturally, the law has wide application; giving us protection, it administers justice; it serves minorities and the majority, the weak as well as the influential, serving one group no more than another. Whenever justice is sought, all of us look to the Judiciary, in part because it is independent but also because it is impartial.
Keeping our Judiciary at the centre of our democracy is helped by recognizing individuals whose intelligence, discipline, and values have left on the institution a recognizable mark.
Upon his retirement as Chief Justice, one commentator suggested that “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.”
Convocation Orator, Bert Riggs, orating the case for conferring on Derek Green the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa referenced Green’s former law partner and associate on the NL Court of Appeal Justice White, Charles White, who offered this view of his work: “No justice from our province has created such a large and enduring body of law, nor had the Supreme Court of Canada adopted so much of their reasoning.”
Such commendation, alone, is convincing of his distinction and deservedness. But the career of the Retired Chief Justice, Newfoundland’s 1970 Rhodes Scholar, and prolific writer of scholarly articles, was not entirely about hearing cases or applying interpretation, knowledge, objectivity, or precedent to achieve the judicial outcome contemplated by legislators. On at least one occasion, he was given the role of investigating some of those same lawmakers, as Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Constituency Allowances and Related Matters, at a difficult time in our very own House of Assembly.
Orator Bert Riggs properly noted that “[h]is report made comprehensive recommendations for reform of management, administrative and spending practices in the House of Assembly including achieving accountability and transparency with respect to spending of public money. His 80 recommendations were accepted by the Government and many were embedded in subsequent legislation.”
Riggs illuminated the comment of Professor C.E.S. Franks, writing in the journal Canadian Public Administration, whom he describes as an impartial witness. Franks observed that, “[a]doption of the recommendations of the Green Commission in Newfoundland has set a new standard for managing legislatures in Canada.”
Derek Green has left the NL Judiciary a stronger institution, and perhaps not just due to having helped the legal community, and others, achieve a better understanding of the law or of jurisprudence generally, or even having sagely written Judicial Decisions and effectively administered the Courts, all of which are significant. Ultimately, it was his scholarship, wisdom, and regard for democratic values which we recognize as the basis for his lengthy and persistent pursuit of clarity, justice, and the truth.
One more point. No institution is beset with as many, or as often conflicting, demands for fairness as much as the Judiciary. Yet it is expected to change with the rest of society, always without compromising the values on which its very existence depends. We might think of people like Derek Green not just as Justices but also as Guardians, capable of embracing change while remaining slavishly committed to the goals and the values of an open, free, and democratic society.
The Courts are not a place that we casually think about until, having suffered loss or mistreatment, we go in search of justice. Perhaps, it is the hope that we may never need to, but others might, that sustains our regard of this institution’s high standards and want to recognize those who have made it stronger.
All are good reasons that another significant institution, Memorial University, has honored Derek Green.