The Advocates' Society responds to criticism of Justice John Norris
The Advocates' Society writes to express its concern about the unwarranted criticism of the appointment of The Honourable Justice John Norris to the Federal Court of Canada.
The Advocates' Society is a professional association for trial lawyers with almost 6,000 members across Canada. The Society’s mandate includes speaking out in defence of the independence of the Bar and the Judiciary.
Criticism has been directed at the appointment of Justice Norris on the basis that the Honourable Justice represented persons accused of serious crimes during his career at the bar. The vigorous representation of unpopular persons accused of wrongdoing, however, is in the finest traditions of the bar. Moreover, it is one of the foundations of our justice system. Without effective advocacy by independent lawyers who fulfill their ethical obligations, our adversarial system of justice could not be sustained.
The Rules of Professional Conduct, which every Ontario lawyer must uphold, require a lawyer to represent the client resolutely and honourably within the limits of the law. The lawyer has a duty to the client to raise fearlessly every issue, advance every argument and ask every question, however distasteful.
When defending an accused person, a lawyer's duty is to protect the client as far as possible from being convicted, except by a tribunal of competent jurisdiction and upon legal evidence sufficient to support a conviction for the offence with which the client is charged. These professional obligations ensure that every accused person, regardless of what may be the public opinion of their cause, has access to justice.
As an excellent criminal defence lawyer, Justice Norris upheld the highest traditions of the bar in representing clients, regardless of their unpopularity. This important work upholds the rule of law and every accused person’s constitutional right to a defence. Notably, in this case, the Supreme Court of Canada ultimately concluded that Mr. Khadr’s detention at Guantanamo Bay at 15 years of age, for more than seven years, was the result of an "illegal process" that "offends the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects." A free and democratic society depends on fearless advocates who will advance unpopular causes where that is necessary to uphold the principles of fundamental justice and the rule of law. It is unfair to criticize Justice Norris’ fulfilment of his professional obligations as a lawyer and his work to defend and protect Canadian constitutional rights at home and abroad.