A former Yukon Supreme Court justice who spent 30 years on the bench is being remembered as a strong mentor and defender of the court’s independence.
Harry Maddison died on Boxing Day. He was 89.
Current Justice Ron Veale took over the role from Maddison in 2000.
Veale spent years arguing cases in front of Maddison as a lawyer and became friends with him in later years.
He pointed out that the Yukon Supreme Court is currently the smallest court in the country, with only two judges.
When Maddison was in charge it was even smaller. He was mostly on his own.
“I think that’s the toughest job going,” Veale said, adding that while Maddison did bring in deputy judges from Outside, he didn’t have anyone next door to discuss things with.
Veale described Maddison’s courtroom as very formal.
“If you were late, he would give you a very hard time until you figured out that if you come in late, you apologize,” he said. “As soon as you apologized, everything went smoothly, but if you walked in and didn’t have the courtesy of making an apology you would wonder why he was being so hard on you.”
Veale himself was not above criticism.
“Once I wore cords into the court and he said that wasn’t appropriate.”
Veale said Maddison also recognized the importance of being a mentor to the lawyers.
“He would invite you in after the case and he would give you pointers or ask how it went. He did that with all the lawyers. It was a real mentoring role he played as well.”
That mentoring relationship continued after Veale took over the post.
“I could call him up and bounce ideas off him. That was very helpful. He had vast experience. Almost 30 years on the bench is an enormous career.”
When the current Andrew Philipsen Law Centre was built in the 1980s, Maddison was on the design committee.
“The government had said that on the second floor, which is the courtroom floor, we’re going to have a walkway for the convenience of government lawyers so they can walk over,” Veale said.
The judge did not agree.
“Maddison said no, the access to the court is going to be the same for every person,” Veale said.
The government agreed and put up a wall.
Maddison was the pilot of a Lancaster Bomber in the Second World War.
After earning his law degree from the University of Alberta he practiced in Alberta.
He was called to the Yukon bench in 1969.
In 1995 the Maddison Lectures in Northern Justice were created in his honour.
“The lawyers of the Yukon wanted to recognize Justice Maddison’s contribution to northern justice and felt that the establishment of a permanent chair with Yukon College was more enduring than the usual gold watch,” according to the publisher of a collection of those lectures. “The Maddison Chair invites a distinguished judge, lawyer or scholar to make a public presentation each year on northern justice. The Maddison Chair Lecture is an ongoing commitment to providing a forum to explore contemporary issues in northern justice,”
Plans for a celebration of Maddison’s life are in the works, but nothing official has been decided yet.
Contact Ashley Joannou at