Queen's Legal Aid Director & Alumna Appointed to Nunavut Court of Justice

sue charlesworth at pond inlet
Susan Charlesworth in 2015 in Nunavut. "My job at Queen's Legal Aid has really prepared me for this role," she says.

“A bit nervous, a bit overwhelmed, but mostly happy and excited:" two years after returning from Nunavut, Queen’s Legal Aid Director Susan Charlesworth, Law’81, is making a return ... as a federal justice.

Charlesworth — Justice Charlesworth – was appointed to the bench on June 21 alongside fellow Queen’s Law graduate Christian Lyons, Law’02. It’s a role that her time at Queen’s Legal Aid has made her distinctly well suited for, thanks to Nunavut’s distinctive court structure. “Unlike most jurisdictions in Canada, in Nunavut there is only one level of court: the Nunavut Court of Justice,” she explains.

“Judges do everything normally divided into two or more courts. In Nunavut, the one court — and its justices — do everything. I will be looking at cases ranging from theft with a guilty plea to murder requiring a jury trial, from family law and estates to constitutional issues.”

This breadth of scope — and judgment — is something that years of work supervising law students at Queen’s Legal Aid has prepared Charlesworth for. “I love criminal law, but my job here has really prepared me for this role,” she says. “As the Director of Queen’s Legal Aid, I work with law students on files ranging from landlord-tenant issues to small claims court, traffic matters — an entire gamut of issues that will have relevance. This ability to accumulate a wide variety of experience and expertise while working with students and the public in a pro bono context will definitely be a benefit.”

The call to the bench came not entirely unexpectedly, but was still in some ways abrupt. “I got a call earlier in June about CSIS security clearance, which gave me an inkling," she says. "I got the call at 3:30 on Thursday afternoon. They told me I was a judge — the order had been signed that morning. That’s how it happens. They don’t ask ‘are you sure?'”

The announcement has left Charlesworth happy, stepping back from her role (“As an appointed judge, I can’t provide legal advice, so wrapping up at Queen’s Legal Aid is a challenge”) and looking forward to the next stage of a journey that began in 2013 with a first trip to the north — and now, almost five years later, returning to help shape its judicial future.

This story originally appeared on the Queen's Law Website.