Interning at the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador: A Reflection
This summer, I have had the invaluable opportunity to intern at the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador in St. John’s. I was particularly fortunate because in a typical summer the court is on recess, so complex matters are not heard. However, due to the effects of the COVID-19 shutdown, the court is continuing to hear more complex matters throughout the summer.
My time at the Court was shared between shadowing three Justices and completing some research tasks. I spent my first few days shadowing Chief Justice Whalen on day-to-day matters, many of which now occur via video conference, and an in-person sentencing hearing for a man convicted of armed robbery as the getaway driver. I also spent time shadowing Justice Knickle on an interlocutory application to set aside a default order of over a million dollars owed by a construction company for unpaid usage of the opposing party’s construction equipment. I also shadowed Justice McGrath on a three-day criminal trial (publication ban) that had already been adjourned several times due to COVID-19 and NL Snowmageddon 2020 (the record-breaking winter season that resulted in long closures and a provincial state of emergency). I observed and absorbed as much as possible, given that these Justices have such vast knowledge and experiences. I hope to return to the Court next month to hear the decision of both the interlocutory application and the criminal trial.
As for the research component, I was tasked with compiling information on what types of matters are being heard in-person versus via video or teleconference in courts across the country. The legal system, including the courts, had to adapt seemingly overnight to new ways of doing things remotely. Routine matters are largely being heard via video or teleconference, while more complex matters such as judge-only criminal trials are slowly resuming in-person. Even after COVID-19, I suspect many of these technological changes are here to stay. I also worked on a small research item involving jurisdiction for granting letters of administration of an estate where the individual died in a province different from that of the application. I was surprised at how unsettled and inconsistent the law on the topic is across the country considering that estates are such an integral and practical area of law.
Before my internship, the Court had never before had a summer intern nor has it been successful in obtaining funding for an articling student. This missed opportunity highlights the crucial importance of the judicial internship program through the Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice (CIAJ). Thanks to CIAJ and Chief Justice Whalen, this internship provided me with invaluable insight into the court process in both civil and criminal matters and the role and reasoning of judges. I hope that this program can continue for years to come and attract more participation and resources for both internship and clerkship positions.
In 2019, CIAJ has created a Judicial Internships Across Canada program in order to provide law students with the possibility to participate in a judicial internship at the provincial, federal or administrative level. Internships take place between May 1 and September 1 of the current year, over the course of one week or more depending on the availability of participating judges.