Chief Judge Melissa Gillespie

Melissa-Gillespie-headshot

Profile prepared by Grace Cleveland

What was your path into law and onto the bench?

I am originally from Calgary and went to university intending to focus on commerce and finance.  My path into law started when I travelled abroad to a number of developing countries that were very impoverished and saw the importance of the human connections that were created through listening and engaging with people.  That made me realize that my passion was to engage in public service.  I followed this up by receiving my law degree from the University of Toronto and was called to the BC Bar in 1991. I worked as Crown Counsel in the Fraser Region eventually becoming Administrative Crown Counsel in Surrey, then Deputy Regional Crown Counsel, and in 2005 Regional Crown Counsel for the Fraser Region.  As the Regional Crown Counsel, I was responsible for the daily management and oversight of 115 Crown counsel and 90 support staff.  I was the second woman to hold that position.  I was appointed a Queen’s Counsel in 2009.  In February 2012 I was appointed as a Provincial Court judge and I presided in the Fraser Region. I was able to serve the court as a judge, but also by assisting with judicial education and community outreach, as well I served as a member of the executive of the BC Provincial Court Judges Association for several years. In April 2016 I was appointed as an Associate Chief Judge of the Court. In 2018 former Chief Judge Thomas Crabtree was appointed to the Supreme Court of British Columbia. When that occurred, I was appointed as Acting Chief Judge in May 2018 and as Chief Judge in October 2018.

What experience in your legal career best prepared you for your work on the bench?

In my legal career I was fortunate to have been mentored by strong role models who, as criminal lawyers and judges, did difficult jobs but demonstrated collegiality, encouragement and support.  I have also had the opportunity to be a mentor to upcoming lawyers and to encourage them to recognize their skills and build professional networks that will support and celebrate their successes. As a lawyer I learned to share my time and experiences, listen to people, engage with new people, and to treat others with the respect and dignity that I would hope to be treated with.  This approach was important for me as a lawyer, but also prepared me for the transition to working on the bench. 

 What advice do you have for counsel who appear before you?

My advice for counsel is to recognize and appreciate that while going to court may be an everyday occurrence for you, it is not a place where most people feel comfortable.  It is important that you do what you can to prepare people for what the experience will be like, walk them through the process and talk about reasonable outcomes so you can reduce some of that uncertainty. Also, I think everyone, whether they are a judge, lawyer, client or witness appreciates being treated with respect and civility. 

What do you wish the public knew about the justice system?

A lot of people have legal problems that can end up before the courts and while there are barriers to bringing some of those problems to court, it is important to remember that the work of the court is open and transparent and the court is accountable to the public. The public can read our Annual Reports, eNews articles and our recent decisions on our website to get a better sense of the current court initiatives and to understand what the court does. At our core we want to serve the public by providing a fair, equal, efficient and innovative forum for justice that enhances respect for the rule of law. I try to take advantage of opportunities to help people understand the role of the Court and to answer questions about the justice system.

Learn more about Chief Judge Melissa Gillespie