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Botting honours memory of the late Chief Justice Allan McEachern

By Gary Botting

On a pedestal in the foyer of the Vancouver Law Courts at 800 Smithe St., confronting the statue of blind justice, sits the bust of the late Chief Justice Allan McEachern, placed there to memorialize a giant of a jurist, a model of a man.

I remember my first appearance before Chief Justice McEachern in the lavish, stained-glass and oak Court of Appeal courtroom in Victoria on Sept. 23, 1994. The Court of Appeal list was fairly long, and my matter was a full sentence appeal on a guilty plea; so I had time to go over it one more time. Or so I thought ...

At the back of the gallery behind the ornate dock, I piled my documents on my robed knee, sorting through them to make sure that everything was in place: factum, appeal book, transcript, book of authorities, notepad, with a few loose judgments piled like icing on top. That didn’t look right. Except ...

 They called a case.  Just the last name. “Tran.”  Then: “Mr. Botting?” 

 “Yes!”  

So much for trying to be inconspicuous. Now, I sprang forward towards the bar and thrust myself through the gate, my stack of papers artfully balanced on my left arm. But as I whisked through the gate, my legal robe caught on the newel post or gate postern — I know not which.

I levelled out about three feet off the ground and came thumping down, flat on my back, the wind knocked out of me. The loose papers descended around me in a blizzard.

I sat there for a moment, stunned. Madam Justice Southin glared at me as if I had committed sacrilege. Madam Justice Ryan’s cynical glance made me feel very, very small. But the Chief Justice saw the funny side.

"I think this would be a really, really great time for a recess, don’t you, Mr. Botting?”

Silently, I nodded, then scrambled to my feet as the three great jurists rose to leave the room so that I could pull myself together.

 Four years later, in another appeal, I had just defended my factum before Chief Justice McEachern, Mr. Justice Hall and Madam Justice Ryan when Crown counsel Robert Mulligan handed me a fresh precedent, hot off the press, which was completely on point — and went against me. During the recess, the division gave me time to read over and respond to the new case.

When the panel returned after the break, I remained standing. 

“Well, Mr. Botting?” said Chief Justice McEachern.

“Yes, my Lords, my Lady,” I replied. “I have talked to the Crown counsel, and it appears he’s right. This new decision is binding on the court.”  Then I added sadly, “The only law that can be said to apply here — is — is — Murphy’s.”

Being Irish, this hit the Chief Justice's funny bone. He guffawed with laughter, as did Robert Mulligan: a humbled Englishman outnumbered by the Irish, two to one.

Four years after that, I was due to make an argument on an extradition case scheduled in Vancouver when, on the way to court, I had a heart attack. I was an LL.M. student at U.B.C. at the time but still ran a full practice. It was the Chief Justice who sent me a card while I was still in the hospital saying that they had missed me and hoped all was well.

But the most memorable moment of all, for me, was Chancellor McEachern conferring upon me the PhD in Law at the convocation at U.B.C. in 2004. By then we had crossed paths many times, mostly in court, and he did not forget a name. He grinned broadly as I crossed the stage of the Chan Centre towards him.

 “It’s about time!” yelled a familiar voice from the balcony, to a wave of laughter.

 “My daughter,” I sighed and rolled my eyes. He nodded. Smiled.

“But she’s wrong, Gary,” he said. He hooded me and shook my hand, patting me on the shoulder.  “Take all the time you need!”

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