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four days into the case, in recognition of everyone’s discomfort, Aikins dispensed
with the need for counsel to gown. Of course this particularly benefited
the junior lawyers in their wool vests and gowns. Their leaders were
not quite so badly off: as Queen’s Counsel, their gowns and vests were silk
and comparatively light.
Mr. Justice Aikins was moderately traditional. (This is no surprise. He, like
Verchere, had been appointed to the bench during Diefenbaker’s regime.)
Dress did make a difference to Aikins. In fact he taught me something most
current British Columbia lawyers do not know, which is how lawyers and
judges should dress while travelling to and from court and during breaks when
away from the court’s precincts. (One of British Columbia’s recent Supreme
Court Chief Justices told me he was aghast one day to have come across a
young lawyer, in a restaurant next to the courthouse, who was fully gowned!)
The mandated Aikins uniform for out-of-court wear was striped grey court
trousers (at the time, there were still very few women in the law) with a black
or dark grey suit coat—no vest—over a wing-tipped court shirt with a plain
grey tie in place of the tabs worn in court. And definitely no gown.
One of the senior lawyers on the insurance case was Douglas McK.
Brown, Q.C., then the dean of British Columbia’s barristers.
After Mr. Justice Aikins relaxed the dress requirement, Mr. Brown came
to court every day immaculately attired in a dark suit with a fresh red rose
in his left lapel.
Aikins’s reasons for upholding the exclusionary insurance law—he
decided automobile insurance was a local matter over which the legislature
of British Columbia had constitutional authority—took up about 100 pages
in the law reports. His judgment survived appeals to the Court of Appeal for
British Columbia and to the Supreme Court of Canada. British Columbia has
had a public automobile insurer ever since.
Mr. Justice Aikins believed in the old saw, “The law is ninety per cent
facts.” He was meticulous about getting the facts right and very careful to
explain in his reasons why he found the facts he did. He drafted his judgments
using a Dictaphone, alternately reciting his thoughts and, as a prodigious
smoker, drawing on a cigarette. His judgments were typically longer,
and a little cruder in style, than were the judgments of some of his judicial
colleagues. But what he lacked in brevity and felicity he made up for in clarity.
It was undoubtedly his reputation for attending assiduously to the facts
and for ruminating beyond the norm that had persuaded Chief Justice
Nemetz to choose him to preside over the pivotal insurance case.
I saw Aikins struggle with that proceeding for nearly six months. I
watched the trial unfold before him; I joined him daily in his chambers as he