It may have come later than expected due to the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the time that passed did nothing to cool the reception of the Yukon Supreme Court’s newest judge at her ceremonial swearing in.
The court swore in Justice Karen Wenckebach in a May 27 ceremony in the Yukon Supreme Courtroom in downtown Whitehorse. A crowd of well wishers — among them lawyers, judges and Wenckebach’s friends and family— were present both in person and via videoconference.
Although a formal swearing in had to be put off due to restrictions on gatherings, Wenckebach has been hearing cases on the Yukon Supreme Court bench for more than 18 months now.
“Usually, these swearing in ceremonies happen soon after a judge appointment. And our comments about their abilities as a judge are anticipatory, and actually speculative,” said Yukon Supreme Court Chief Justice Suzanne Duncan.
Duncan noted that there is no speculation in Wenckebach’s case as some in attendance have actually appeared before Wenckebach, and others have read her decisions. Duncan expressed confidence in the new justice’s keen analytical mind and varied experience as a clerk and lawyer before being appointed as a judge.
Speeches praising Wenckebach’s qualifications and her work as a judge so far were made by all of the Yukon’s Supreme and Territorial Court justices in attendance, as well as representatives of the Yukon government’s Justice department, the Yukon Law Society and other groups.
After thanking her friends and family in attendance, Wenckebach reflected on the neat legal puzzles she enjoyed working through in law school as well as the very different reality she encountered in her legal practice.
“They come to us often at the worst times of their lives. Their families are dissolving. They’re facing criminal matters, their complaints in a criminal matter. When they come to us, they want, they hope for recognition of what they have lived as they experienced it,” she said.
“When what is important to litigants is not what is important legally, clients and litigants can feel alienated from the legal system. As legal practitioners, we are at our best when we can fulfill our roles as legal narrators, without losing sight of the lived experiences behind those narratives.”
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