THE ADVOCATE VOL.V O L . 75 7 5 PART P A R T 4 4 J JULY U L Y 2 2017
0 1 7 617
By Gordon Turriff, Q.C.*
THREE SHORT JUDICIAL PORTRAITS
I finished law school in the spring of 1974 and immediately began a term as
law clerk to Nathan T. Nemetz, then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of
British Columbia. This was when the court occupied the beautiful stone
building which still sits at the heart of downtown Vancouver, but which now
marks off its days as the home of Vancouver’s controversial civic art gallery.
Francis Rattenbury, a transplanted English architect, designed the building.
He also designed British Columbia’s splendid Parliament Buildings We
anticipate another Grumble! See pp. 615–616 of this issue – Asst. Ed. and the
elegant Empress Hotel.
Rattenbury (who has his own story1) had conceived the courthouse in
Vancouver on a grand scale. Accordingly, Nemetz’s chambers were spacious
and sumptuous—a lot of dark wood and, I think I am right, red carpets: a
finer setting than His Lordship would have chosen for himself but appropriate
for the province’s senior trial judge. As powerful as he was, he was
unpretentious, even if he regularly called for the court’s driver (a diminutive,
delightful man whose name I only recall as Ken) and for the court’s car,
a gleaming black yacht-sized hardtop Lincoln Continental.
His Lordship was a great judicial administrator, best known for having
helped define, for all of Canada, the important constitutional boundary
between the state, which needs and pays for judicial services, and a judiciary
necessarily independent of government. At 3:30 p.m. on most afternoons,
he discharged an important judicial duty by deciding which judges
of his court would hear which cases the following court day. I often joined
him in his chambers for those sessions.
* Mr. Turriff is a familiar contributor to these pages. He is a bencher-in-residence at the Peter A. Allard School of Law and
is currently researching a book about Oscar Wilde and his lawyers.