Francis Forbes Annual Law Lecture

This lecture series was initiated in 2015 to address legal issues of public concern and to unite Memorial University and the provincial legal community in a venture seeking to examine the public interest.

The Francis Forbes Annual Law Lecture is co-sponsored by Memorial University, the Law Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador.

2023 Francis Forbes Lecture:

The Importance of Historical Perspective

Date: March 29 | 7PM
Venue: Bruneau Centre (IIC 2001)

Malcolm Rowe, Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, will give this year's Francis Forbes Lecture.

The study of history provides understanding of the past. Historical perspective utilizes this to inform our understanding of contemporary society. As history is considered from ever-changing perspectives, the resulting re-evaluations enrich this understanding. This is contrasted with historical negation that distorts history in the service of current aims. It is also contrasted with historical denunciation that seeks to de-legitimize actions taken and ideas expressed in the past.

Historical perspective is valuable to understanding governance in a liberal democratic society and the role of courts within that system. This is examined by reference to John Rawls’ “Political Liberalism.” Also examined is the role of courts in developing constitutional doctrine. This assists us to better understand the separation of powers as among the legislature, the executive and courts.

In dedication to Sir Francis Forbes

The lecture series is dedicated to the memory of Sir Francis Forbes, who served as the Chief Justice in the Supreme Court of Judicature in Newfoundland from 1816 to 1822.

Forbes instrumental in shaping the early face of constitutionalism and the rule of law in Newfoundland. He was appointed Chief Justice in the Supreme Court of Judicature in Newfoundland in 1816 and was to serve in this position until 1822. Thereafter he served as an adviser in the Colonial Office in London, followed by a distinguished career as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in New South Wales.

Forbes was powerfully influential in furthering constitutionalism and the rule of law in Newfoundland.

His decisions were fearless in the face of strong executive opposition, challenging and checking the arbitrary use of power by the governor and his subordinates, recognizing the right of residents to own property, and strengthening the position of the Supreme Court as a general appeal court for the colony. Also notable was his careful blending in judgements of local custom with English common law to achieve a legal regime that was adapted to social conditions in the colony. 

Previous lectures:

The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice of Canada, on the topic of "Canada’s criminal justice system in the 21st century – Addressing the challenges"

Derek Green, Chief Justice of Newfoundland and Labrador, on the topic of
"Re-imaging Justice: Finding local solutions to the access crisis."