A Play in One Act
by Tom Cahill
by The Honourable Noel Goodridge
Chief Justice of Newfoundland
The evolution of a judicial system in Newfoundland was slow. An acceptable system did not come with the first adventurous explorers, nor with the first fishermen who inhabited our coast line during the summer fishing season, nor with the first persons who unlawfully settled here, nor, initially, with those who subsequently came when settlement was lawful.
In the early days of the Newfoundland fishery, the captain of the first fishing vessel to reach our shores became the governor and chief judge. Unversed in matters of law, the captain was ill-equipped to deal with legal matters. Justice was administered in a summary manner, frequently by a judge who was not impartial and who was abrupt in his hearing of a case and cruel in his disposition of it.
The rule of law was a stranger in Newfoundland. Largely through the efforts of such men as Henry Osborn, John Reeves and Sir Francis Forbes, judicature in Newfoundland evolved. It reached a significant milestone with the creation of the first Supreme Court of Civil Jurisdiction in 1791.
This playlet bridges the period from when justice was administered by a sea-going captain cloaked, perhaps, in an oil skin and sou'wester to a time when justice was administered by a legally trained judge cloaked in a silk gown. Tom Cahill depicts, in dramatic form, the transition. He displays the court room scene before and after and shows that, in the end, justice triumphs.
Mr. Cahill's work is both educational and entertaining. I commend him for his grasp of the historical setting and for the way in which he has portrayed it.
St. John's, Newfoundland
Our struggle for survival in Newfoundland has provided us with a background so rich, robust and unexplored that it is always exciting for a writer to research almost any page in our history. The story of law reform that eventually led to the granting of representative government has been no exception.
I would like to thank the Silk Robes and Sou'westers Committee for their invitation to contribute to the 200th anniversary celebrations by writing this script. I would especially like to thank Christopher Curran, Executive Director of the Newfoundland Law Reform Commission, for supplying research documents along with constant support and cooperation.
Sidebar link updated July, 2005.