Down North on the Labrador Circuit:
The Court of Civil Jurisdiction 1826 to 1833
by Nina Jane Goudie
The Honourable Thomas W. Marshall, Q.C.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General
The publication of Nina Jane Goudie's “Down North on the Labrador Circuit” is an appropriate occasion to remind ourselves of the ongoing contribution of the Project Daisy Committee to the scholary appropriation of this Province's legal past. The story of the administration of justice in Newfoundland and Labrador is a rich and varied one: fishing admirals, naval commanders, governors, colourful practitioners, magistrates, judges, attorneys general all played a role. The Law Society's Daisy Committee, with the support of the Law Foundation, is providing yoeman service in championing the cause of keeping this story alive. I want to congratulate the Daisy Committee for this, the fourth publication in its legal history series. And I also want to commend Nina Goudie for her groundbreaking and highly original work on the legal history of Labrador, and its “Court of Civil Jurisdiction 1826 to 1833”.
Though tied to the history of the island portion of the Province, Labrador from earliest times had its own unique legal traditions. This is hardly surprising when we recall that the law at once reflects and helps shape the society out of which it springs. From the outset the administration of justice in Labrador had to respond to the unique challenges of a mixture of cultures and languages, an immense geography and a physical separation from the island part of the colony. This was as true for Judge Paterson on his arrival in Indian Harbour, Labrador, in 1826 as it is today. And just as in 1826 the mixing of legal cultures added a novel dimension to Paterson's resolution of disputes so too today, as reflected in the recent unreported decision of this Province's Court of Appeal in R v J. J., the law continues to evolve, to embrace and appropriate, the unique elements of Labrador's legal culture, in this case the restorative and healing strategies of Labrador's Aboriginal communities. This is consistent at once with the genius of the common law and with the moral precept reflected in Deuteronomy 16:20 “Justice, justice ... shalt thou follow ...” The law, though universal in form, must respond to the particular needs of real individuals living in real communities.
While there can be no doubt that the administration of justice in Labrador raises special challenges, it also holds great potential and great hope. Understanding our past will better prepare us to meet these challenges and to realize this promise of hope. My belief is that a culturally sensitive, properly functioning legal system is an essential tool in building a meaningful and prosperous future.
April 4, 2005