by The Honourable Judge Patrick Chen
“I now feel a sense of independence and control over my life that I never realized I didn’t have.”
After 20 years as a real estate solicitor, suddenly I’m standing at the judge’s entrance to the courtroom as the clerk flings open the door, announcing “order in court!” As I work my way gingerly up the steps to the judge’s chair I glance at the people gathered in the courtroom, all standing. I bow to them and they bow back. The respect that the judiciary has as an institution in our society fills me with both humility and pride, because of the great responsibilities with which I have been entrusted.
There is so much to learn, and there always will be things to learn as a judge. That is one of the things I find so exciting about this job. I had not appreciated before that the jurisdiction of BC Provincial Court judges is the broadest of any Provincial Court in the country. Our court handles over 95 per cent of all criminal cases prosecuted in the province and over 70 per cent of all family cases, including child protection matters. The Provincial Court hears all matters arising out of the Young Offenders Act. While our volume of civil cases is currently about half of that heard by Supreme Court, that could change if our jurisdiction is increased from the current maximum of $10,000. In addition, our Court, unlike many provincial courts in this country, does mediation in family, child protection and civil cases. This innovation of our Court has resulted in 70 per cent of our civil cases being resolved without need for a trial.
I feel privileged to join this fine group of people who are the members of the Provincial Court bench. I have found them to be extremely conscientious and dedicated to making the very best decisions they can. A commitment to improving our judicial skills is very much a part of the culture of the Provincial Court bench. We have two educational conferences a year sponsored by the Provincial Court Judges Association, which I have found to be outstanding. In addition, we talk about legal and procedural issues whenever we get together and we learn from each other.
All judges I have met have gone out of their way to be helpful and to make me feel welcome. On my first day in court, Judge Cartwright, who was on holiday, none-the-less came to the courthouse to organize a lunch for me. After lunch she gave me phone numbers for her home, chambers and cell phone and told me to call her at any time should I have any questions. I am pleased to say that every judge I have met has been just as collegial, supportive and kind.
How has my life changed? I now feel a sense of independence and control over my life that I never realized I didn’t have. Most of all, I find the work extremely interesting. Real-life dramas are being presented to me every day, and I’m asked to decide the outcome.
The work is very rewarding. The decisions I make are of such great importance to the litigants involved and – I believe – to society as a whole. I find it especially gratifying when I can mediate a dispute – empowering both parties to create their own solution – one that recognizes the interests of both parties and which they each have ownership of.
Its hard to believe that just a little over a year ago I was conveying property, negotiating contracts, drafting wills and managing a law firm. It’s been a big change but one I’ve never regretted. I know there are a lot of thoughtful and wise lawyers out there who have never considered applying for the bench because they are solicitors. To those lawyers I say, “think about it, it’s a wonderful challenge”. I’m certainly happy I did.
This article was published in the June 2001 issue of BarTalk. © 2001 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.