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Queen's Legal Aid Director appointed to Nunavut Court of Justice

Susan Charlesworth (Law'81) is heading back to Nunavut, and connecting with another Law alumnus.

[Susan Charlesworth Pond Inlet Nunavut 2015]
Susan Charlesworth in 2015 in Nunavut. "My job at Queen's Legal Aid has really prepared me for this role," she says. (Supplied Photo)
Two years after returning from Nunavut, Queen’s Legal Aid Director Susan Charlesworth (Law’81) is making a return as a federal justice.
 
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 – “I got a call earlier in June about CSIS security clearance, which gave me an inkling,” Charlesworth laughs – but was still in some ways abrupt. “I got the call at 3:30 on Thursday afternoon,” she says. “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, "a bit nervous, a bit overwhelmed, but mostly happy and excited". This new position will mean stepping back from her role with Queen's Legal Aid, as an appointed judge cannot provide legal advice. 
 
Sill, she says she is 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 article originally appeared on the Queen's Law website.