Justice Russell Brown at the St. Thomas More Lawyers’ Guild banquet in Ottawa, Sept. 22. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Humility essential to those in law, says Supreme Court Justice at Christian lawyers’ banquet

  • September 28, 2016

OTTAWA – Supreme Court of Canada Justice Russell Brown stressed the importance of humility to find the right balance of mercy and justice in a speech to Christian lawyers Sept. 22 in Ottawa.

Speaking to the annual banquet of the St. Thomas More Lawyers’ Guild of Ottawa, Brown told the more than 100 lawyers that he had admired Thomas More since, as a teenager, he had seen him portrayed in the film A Man for All Seasons.

Thomas exhibited the virtue of humility, said Brown, something he discovered when a colleague sent him a novena to the saint upon his appointment to the Alberta bench, and on one of the days, the novena sought his intercession for the virtue of humility.

“Notwithstanding his earthly success, he was conscious of its power to delude, to lead him to think only of things of this world, and to obscure the fact that, like all of us, he was a sinner,” he said. “That his prayers were penitential and sustained show this.”

Humility does not require becoming a “doormat” or submitting to indignity, he said, noting most are tempted to err in the direction of too little humility than too much.

One problem judges face is the undue deference shown them, he said.

“Inside and outside of court, we are used to people deferring to us,” he said. “

While it is good the public trusts judges, he said, the “public often views our pronouncements as irrefutably true and indisputable rather than as the product of disputed and disputable judgment calls.”

It’s easy to “be seduced by all of this” and to “become proud,” he said, and Christians can also succumb, even though we “have fewer excuses since we worship what we believe to be the only perfect example of humility.”

“Thomas knew of that perfect example of humility, and of his own inability to emulate it,” Brown said. “His fear of losing faith at the last — which, to his great credit, we know now that he did not — spoke to his self-knowledge, that he was, for all his great qualities, a weak and imperfect being. That his remarkable accomplishments as a jurist and legacy as a martyr for his faith notwithstanding, he would have acknowledged God as the only Perfect Judge.”

Brown, who was appointed to Canada’s highest court in 2015, said experience does not make judges wise, nor is it easy to find the proper balance of mercy and justice. He noted sometimes mercy and justice will conflict.

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