We use cookies on this site to enable your digital experience. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our cookie policy. close
Focus On
NEW In-House Counsel | Insurance | Intellectual Property | Immigration | Natural Resources | Real Estate | Tax

Late Chief Justice Clarke was ‘champion’ of people

Thursday, July 21, 2016 @ 8:00 PM | By Donalee Moulton


Former Nova Scotia Chief Justice Lorne Clarke, who left the judiciary and legal community a lasting legacy, died on May 21 at the age of 87.

Chief Justice Clarke “fearlessly embraced social context education,” Chief Justice Michael MacDonald told The Lawyers Weekly in an interview.

Social context education advocates for judges to go beyond an understanding of substantive law and learn about the members of society that the courts are called on to judge: indigenous peoples, African Canadians, the homeless, among others. “The judiciary recognized the need for judges to be more aware, and Chief Justice Clarke was a champion at a time when these initiatives were first being developed and would have in certain circles been controversial. That is one of his legacies,” said Chief Justice MacDonald.

In his eulogy at St. David’s Church in Halifax, Supreme Court of Canada Justice Thomas Cromwell noted that Chief Justice Clarke, who served as vice chair of the Canadian Judicial Council and a board member of the National Judicial Institute, promoted educational programs locally and nationally and made sure that judges with heavy caseloads had the time to attend. “He brought all of the Nova Scotia courts together for judicial education, the first province to do so. He worked to expand the educational opportunities for judges on issues of race, gender, poverty and disability. A pilot program for judicial development allowed judges to get feedback from those with whom they deal — a first in Canada.”

In 1985, when the farm boy from Malagash, N.S., was appointed the 20th chief justice of Nova Scotia, he took the helm of the province’s judiciary as the Donald Marshall, Jr. wrongful conviction proceedings and subsequent inquiry were dominating the administration of justice. “Lorne seized on these events as an opportunity to strengthen confidence in the courts and he provided progressive and inspirational leadership,” said Justice Cromwell.

After receiving his law degree from Dalhousie University in 1951 and his master’s in law from Harvard five years later, Chief Justice Clarke practised labour and commercial law with the firm of Patterson, Smith, Matthews and Grant in Truro, N.S. After his first judicial appointment was announced, a testimonial dinner was held to congratulate the new judge. Chief Justice Michael MacDonald was then only two years out of law school and his firm invited him to attend the event. The young lawyer spoke briefly with the new judicial appointee. “Ever since that night he remembered my name and asked about my contemporaries in Sydney. It was such an honour for me to take on the position he once held,” said Chief Justice MacDonald.

Justice Cromwell spoke fondly the “thousands” of notes Chief Justice Clarke was known to write to “his vast number of friends, admirers and colleagues.” He added: “My family will always remember the first of Lorne’s notes to grace our home. Our son — at the time about age 2 — had his picture with Santa in The Daily News. Not long after, a note from the Chief Justice of Nova Scotia arrived in the mail. There was a copy of the photo with a sticky note which read simply, “I think that you will recognize one of these gentlemen.”

That connection to colleagues was a noteworthy attribute of the late chief justice. “When he spoke to you it was like you were the only person in the room,” said Chief Justice MacDonald, who continued to meet regularly for meals at local restaurants with Chief Justice Clarke even after his retirement. “He was a mentor to me.”

A brilliant legal mind, Chief Justice Clarke, a member of the Order of Canada and the Order of Nova Scotia, is recognized for his foundational decisions in Aboriginal rights and the principles of fundamental justice under the Charter. However, said Justice Cromwell, “the real work of the judge is done day in and day out, taking meticulous care with each and every case. In this disciplined and demanding work, Lorne shone. He delivered hundreds of beautifully crafted oral judgments that managed in a few words to grasp the essence of the matter, provide a clear explanation for the outcome and to reassure the parties that their rights and interests had been fully considered.”

The chief justice’s sense of humour was renowned. He took great pleasure, for example, in letting people know he shared a birthday with Mickey Mouse, Nov. 18, 1928. One story he loved to tell, said Justice Cromwell, was about picking up Supreme Court of Canada Justice Brian Dickson (and later chief justice) at the Halifax airport. He brought along the family dog, a move that seemed to surprise the visiting justice. “Lorne remarked dryly that the dog helped him with the really tough cases,” said Justice Cromwell. “Lorne would add with that same twinkle in his eye that he was never sure that Justice Dickson knew that he was joking.”

In his eulogy, Justice Cromwell quoted the Buddhist saying “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle.” He said, “Lorne Clarke lit thousands of candles.”