26 September 2012

English v. Pike: Game on! #nlpoli

Supreme Court Trial Division, Court Room 7, Duckworth Street.

10:00 AM.

Be there or be squarer than you’d normally be as a lawyer or person interested in lawyer stuff.

William J. English vs Mark D. Pike et al.

Doesn’t look like much on the docket but this could be one of the most-watched cases in recent times. CBC teased it up a couple of weeks ago.

English is the Provincial Court judge in Goose Bay.  Pike is the the Chief Judge of the Provincial Court. 

Some of you may recall Pike who was featured in posts here, here, here, and here.

English released eight men from custody in 2011, citing the requirements of the Criminal Code and the lack of resources available to the Crown in Goose Bay.

As CBC reported:
English said he then received an email from Pike with the instruction, "Henceforth you are to refrain from any comment, from the bench or otherwise in public or private ... regarding the adequacy (or lack thereof) of judicial or court resources."
On the same day, Pike also said in a CBC Radio interview that the suspects should have remained in custody. "I can say from a resource point of view, it shouldn't have happened," Pike said. 
In a further email, Pike wrote to English, "Your behaviour and actions regarding the release of the eight men (has been) referred to the Judicial Council" for potential disciplinary action.
English is applying to the Supreme Court, for what CBC didn’t say.  The case will undoubtedly involve issues of free speech and judicial independence, as CBC reported.

English has been on the bench in Goose Bay since he was first appointed in 2000.  Now while none of what follows has a direct bearing on the case being heard on the upper path Wednesday morning, it is part of the back story that may well have added some extra colour to the whole thing for the participants.

Not so very long ago, it was the usual practice that newly appointed judges to the Provincial Court took up a spot in Goose Bay,  Harbour Grace or in one of the other seats outside St. John’s.  Only then might a judge have the chance to get one of the preferred townie spots, when and if one came up.

Since he went to Goose Bay in 2000, English hasn’t been alone. He has had bench-mates, including Jim Igloliorte, Tim ChalkerCatherine Allen-WestbyBruce Short (now in Gander), and John Joy. The others have retired, been promoted or moved.

But English?  Do the math.  The fellow has been down on the Labrador for a dozen years. For a chunk of that time – including the time when he released the eight men – English was the only judge in Goose Bay.  The Goose Bay court is busy and, as the practice was, judges who served there might reasonably expect to move after four or five years in town unless they fell in love with place and wanted to stay.

This was the case until the precedent set some time ago with now retired Judge Lynn Spracklin.  She went to the bench in St. John’s straight from her office in Confederation Building.  Since then, there have been a bunch of new judges appointed to the bench in St. John’s, none of who served a second outside the city since they got their new robes. Just to give you a sense of the issue, here is a list of the appointments for the past couple of years:

James Walsh
St. John’s
Lori Ann Marshall
St. John’s
Laura Mennie
St. John’s
Lois Skanes
St. John’s
Michael Madden
Jacqueline Brazil
Harbour Grace*

Interestingly enough, a description from 2011 of the duties of administrative judges notes that a “mechanism to ensure judicial transfers are made on an equitable basis has also been put in place.”

Get out the popcorn, folks and find a comfy seat.  This first court appearance of the parties in English v. Pike et al. might turn out to be short but it’s the stuff from here on that could prove to be highly entertaining.


* Incorrectly listed as St. John's originally.