Practice Makes Perfect

While we normally concern ourselves strictly with the business of the Supreme Court of Canada, I recently read an article that could be of great interest to the people reading The Court. On Monday, the Globe and Mail reported that Owen Rees, Mr. Justice Frank Iacobucci, and Gregoire Webber are going to set up a project designed to teach aspiring lawyers how to properly appear before the SCC.

Called the Supreme Court Advocacy Institute, it appears to be a permanent moot court, designed to replicate the experience as precisely as possible. Mr. Rees writes of the planned experience:

“Counsel will be gowned. The panel will be gowned. Nothing can ever be exactly like standing in front of the Supreme Court of Canada, but we want this, as much as possible, to be as similar.”

The Institute has received the blessing of the Chief Justice, but is not affiliated with the SCC. It will operate panels in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, with more hopefully to come. The panels will be composed of senior members of the bar, who have Supreme Court experience, as well as SCC clerks and others with first-hand experience.

While the project is a boon to every would-be appellate advocate, Mr. Rees sees a benefit to the bench as well. In the above-mentioned Globe article, he mentions that many rookie lawyers have problems during their time allotment, struggling with being either nervous or awestruck.

This is certainly a welcome addition to the legal landscape in Canada. The SCC hears the most important, contentious, and legally complex issues of the day, and yet because of the huge demand for their time, oral arguments are limited to one hour per party. Considering the immense challenge of sorting through the relevant social, political, legal, factual and procedural arguments, it is a wonder that junior counsel can struggle through the process at all. A little nervousness is to be expected.

It would be great to see this project expanded, perhaps through government funding (though that seems unlikely in the wake of the Court Challenges decision), to prepare all counsel who will be appearing before the SCC. Preparedness on all sides will help the SCC make the best decision possible, and that is certainly in the interest of all Canadians.

While the goal of the Institute is indeed to help raise the quality of advocacy before the SCC, it is explicitly a non-governmental project.

Oh, and it is first-come, first-served (so long as you meet the appeal-granted criteria), so interested parties should try to find out all they can (their website will be launched soon).

UPDATE: Owen Rees was kind enough to provide The Court with some additional information regarding the Supreme Court Advocacy Institute, some of which didn’t appear in the Globe and Mail article. I’ve updated my original post, still found above, with bolded text to denote any changes necessary due to the new information. Specifically, that information is as follows:

  1. the program is open to all counsel, not only first-timers;
  2. it is available both to the private Bar and government counsel;
  3. before enrolling, counsel need to have leave to appeal granted by the Court;
  4. the program helps counsel prepare for an actual appeal;
  5. it is free;
  6. the Institute is independent of any private or government organization, and non-partisan;
  7. the Institute is about advocates helping their colleagues;
  8. the program is national and bilingual;
  9. the Institute’s website is coming soon to;
  10. the Institute’s goal is to assist counsel and the Court by improving the quality of advocacy in this unique forum.

Join the conversation

Loading Facebook Comments ...