Honorary Degree from the National Law University (New Delhi, India)
New Delhi, India, Monday, February 24, 2014
It is a pleasure to join all of you here at the National Law University during my State visit to India.
The purpose of this visit is to strengthen the partnerships that exist between our two countries, particularly in the areas of education, innovation and entrepreneurship—with a special focus on the contributions of women and girls.
This honorary degree is representative of our enduring friendship, and for this, I thank you. As I look at all of you gathered here, I see such potential for growth in our relationship, because you represent the future of our partnerships.
Some of you are already established, and others have yet to begin their careers, but you all hold in your hands the future of the legal system in your country.
Allow me to give you some background on myself. I am a lawyer by profession, and spent much of my career before becoming governor general as a student and professor of law. So I have been where all of you have been, in a hall much like this one, embarking on a career in the law.
Throughout my life, I have developed a profound respect for how precious is the rule of law—by which I mean a legal system centred upon the constant, relentless, pursuit of justice.
As you know, law without the pursuit of justice is at best empty words.
But the rule of law married to the constant pursuit of justice is what makes us free. It allows us to achieve our potential as individuals and as societies.
To paraphrase the great Russian writer and exile Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, justice is humanity’s conscience.
I am a member of the Province of Ontario’s bar association, so allow me to share with you part of the oath sworn by new members of the profession:
“I shall protect and defend the rights and interests of such persons as may employ me…”; “I shall neglect no one’s interest…”; “I shall not pervert the law to favour or prejudice any one…”; and “I shall seek to improve the administration of justice.”
These are the tenets by which Canadian legal professionals live and work, and I am proud to share them with you, given our many similarities. Our two legal systems have one foot in the traditions of British law, yet each country has changed and adapted the system to suit our specific needs.
But what remains constant in both our systems is the fundamental importance of the rule of law. In sum, it is these rules that make us free. How do we take a strong foundation and make it better? Or, as my coat of arms says, Contemplare Meliora: “To envisage a better world.”
Let us begin with current definitions of professionalism, which is focused on serving people and on the continuous innovation in the law and its administration.
These obligations are an essential element of the social contract the legal profession has with society.
There are three principal elements to any profession’s social contract. First, a profession is characterized by specialized knowledge that is taught formally and obtained by experience and under supervision. Second, a profession is given a right by the State to have a monopoly and to control entry and exit standards and competence and, to some degree, fees.
And third, the profession has a responsibility to society to serve beyond the needs of specific clients. This public service element is the key consideration for the rights granted, and professionalism the means by which we fulfil our public service duty.
This bears repeating in more detail. We are given powers and privileges by the State. We enjoy a monopoly to practise law. In return we accept a responsibility to one another, to our clients, to the legal system, and to society at large; particularly, we are duty bound to strive constantly towards improving justice, to continuously create the good.
I should pause here to say that, while I consider myself to have a firm grasp of Canadian law, I am no expert in India’s legal system. What I say here, I believe, are universal truths. I tell you all this not because these are specific areas India can improve on. I share these views because it is vital that everyone here—particularly those still studying—be aware of these issues.
Because there are consequences to being unaware of change.
What happens if we fail to meet our obligations under the social contract, and choose not to evolve with society to ensure the relevance and justice of law and the legal profession? In that case, society will change the nature of the social contract, and redefine professionalism.
I should mention that failure to evolve also brings a loss of trust. And once trust is gone—once that ballast is removed—the system begins to shake and swerve.
How can this be avoided? Through constant improvements and innovation in the justice system.
When I was a young law dean making my welcoming address to new law students, I often posed this question: “Is law just?” To answer that, one needed two different things: to know the law, and to possess a sense of justice. I would encourage students always to ask whether the particular law they were working on is just. And, if it is not, “What will you do about it?” I would then remind these new students that soon, each of them would swear an oath to “improve the administration of justice.”
You have made the same promise, whether officially or not, to improve the justice system in your country.
All of you are part of that challenge, and I am glad we are gathered here, because it begins here. You must commit yourselves to learning, continuously, because there is always something new beyond the horizon.
We live in changing times. Our world is becoming more globalized; new technologies rapidly change how we see the world and how we interact with one another; shifting and growing demographics bring new challenges unimagined 50 years ago. This applies as much to Canada as it does to India, and it requires our attention. We all have a responsibility to strengthen the rule of law.
The pursuit of justice is noble, idealistic, demanding and compelling for the good of society. I encourage all of us to find new ways to collaborate and to innovate so that our countries’ futures are fair and just.
I am proud of the partnerships we have formed with India, as I know we have a lot to learn from each other. I look forward to seeing what else we can do together.