Meet our Board of Directors: The Honourable Justice James O’Reilly

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Wednesday, October 13, 2021
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Committed to promoting sound administration of justice since 1974, CIAJ prides itself on supporting the legal community at all levels. CIAJ would like to warmly thank its board members for sharing their skills and working to improve the justice system with heart and wisdom for the benefit of society as a whole. CIAJ’s actions and programs would not be possible without the dedication of these outstanding professionals.


What does CIAJ mean to you?

I have been a member of the Board since 2012. When I joined, while I was very familiar with CIAJ’s programs, I knew little about the organization itself. I now have a better appreciation of the unique role that CIAJ plays in advancing the administration of justice in Canada. My main involvement with CIAJ has been through programs on judgment writing. In this area, CIAJ has had a profound effect on the quality of written decisions rendered by judges and administrative decision makers.

Why is it important for you to be active and involved outside your job?

I feel it is important to understand the broader context in which I am working. As a lawyer, I was involved in various organizations (eg. International Bar Association, Canadian Bar Association, etc) in order to learn what others in my profession were learning and experiencing and to make my own contribution to colleagues in Canada and beyond. As a judge, I feel the same need to understand and appreciate the broader legal landscape within which I am performing my role.

What do you like the most about your job?

I enjoy the challenge of trying to find the right answer to difficult legal questions, and then finding a way to express that answer clearly and carefully in my written decisions.

Do you have a reference/influence/model in this field? Why?

I have had the wonderful opportunity of working closely with judges at all levels of court, including the Supreme Court of Canada. I was inspired by many of those judges and became convinced that it would be an honour to become a member of the Canadian judiciary.

When you chose to study law, were you thinking of pursuing a career as a judge?

Never. That possibility never entered my mind until I took the job of Executive Legal Officer at the Supreme Court of Canada. Three of my predecessors in that role became judges after they left the SCC, so I began to wonder if that might be a possibility for me.

What else would you have liked to do if you had not become a judge?

I would have probably ended up teaching law full-time. I still enjoy teaching and jump at chances to do more.

Is there a message you would like to pass on to the new generation of judges? If you could talk to yourself when you were 20 years old what would you say?

The path of my career has been determined solely by jobs and opportunities that I knew would interest me and that I thought I might be good at. I did not have a plan beyond that, which meant that I made some unusual choices along the way. As it turned out, they were all good decisions. I would advise young lawyers to do the same if they can. As for young judges, I would encourage them to get involved in roles beyond the day-to-day task of hearing and deciding cases, whether it is on their individual courts, or in law faculties, or in organizations like the National Judicial Institute or, of course, CIAJ. These kinds of activities vastly enrich the judicial experience.

About The Honourable Justice James O’Reilly

CIAJ Board of Directors Past President (member since 2012)
Justice of the Federal Court and of the Court Martial Appeal Court

Justice James O’Reilly was appointed to the Federal Court in 2002 and to the Court Martial Appeal Court in 2003. He has had a varied legal career, serving as Consultant to the Law Reform Commission of Canada, Legal Advisor in the Department of Justice, sole practitioner specializing in legal policy and law reform, Executive Legal Officer at the Supreme Court of Canada, Associate Executive Director at the National Judicial Institute, and Counsel to the Collusion Investigation in London, England. He is the author of many reports and publications, and has taught law at Carleton University, the University of Ottawa, McGill University, Western University, and the Law Society of Upper Canada. He is also a Fellow of McLaughlin College, York University. Justice James O’Reilly has served as co-chair of the CIAJ’s Judgment Writing Seminar since 2010, has been a member of its Board since 2012. He has been acting as President since 2019 and will continue his role as Past President from December 2021.

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Since its inception in 1974, the Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice (CIAJ) brings together individuals and institutions involved in the administration of justice and promotes excellence through knowledge, learning and the exchange of ideas. CIAJ offers customized training and multidisciplinary programs designed for all stakeholders in the justice system, prepares reports and issues recommendations that could lay the groundwork for change.