Legal system needs efficiency, more justice, says Storrow
Renowned Vancouver lawyer Marvin Storrow wanted to be a brain researcher.
“I ran the electroencephalogram at St. Paul’s Hospital for a bit and got to know a little about the brain, not a lot,” he quips with a laugh.
But the law drew him in.
Storrow was president of the legendary UBC law school class of 1962 that included former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Iacobucci, B.C. Chief Justice Lance Finch, Justice Bill O’Leary, Justice Robert Hunter, Justice Vaughan Hembroff, David Anderson …
And he became a star in the national legal firmament, made more than a score of appearances before the Supreme Court of Canada, was named a life bencher of the Law Society of B.C., and is an elder statesman of the profession.
He has tales of defending bookies, bootleggers and bombmakers, anecdotes about kindly kidnappers and Satan’s Angels, bawdy stories about the late Chief Justice John Farris and Happy Hooker Xaviera Hollander.
Today, however, he is lamenting the legal system’s woes.
“When I started practising law 55 years ago, the length of trials was infinitely shorter than it is today,” he said. “Civil trials are taking too long, and so are criminal cases. Months and years can go by before a case really gets going in the court system. This is absolutely wrong. What kind of a system is a justice system that has a court but doesn’t allow people to use it?”
Storrow pointed out that, when he started in his career, a 50-day trial was almost unheard of. Now, they are extremely common, and trials lasting 300 or 400 days are “now known to our system.”
“No ordinary person can afford that,” he added. “This is absolutely wrong, and we have got to do something about it or our system will break entirely.”
At 83, he should know — it’s hard to think of someone with more experience or insight into the legal system.
Storrow articled at Cowan, Twining & Collins before becoming a prosecutor with the City of Vancouver until 1967.
He became a partner at Dumoulin, Storrow & Co., spent a stint at the Department of Justice in Ottawa as a senior counsel from 1971 to 1975, and then became a partner at Davis & Co. until 1988 when he formed Jordan, Gall and Storrow, the predecessor firm of today’s Blake, Cassels & Graydon.
Born in 1934 and reared on the city’s gritty Eastside, Storrow remains a senior litigation partner involved in arbitration, mediation, civil and criminal law.
His expertise includes general commercial litigation, personal injury, First Nations claims, white-collar crime, anti-dumping and international trade cases.
Storrow has done trials at all court levels in the Northwest Territories and in every province except Prince Edward Island.
He was counsel on the leading First Nations cases of Guerin, Sparrow, Roberts, Apassin, Gladstone, Delgamuukw and Ermineskin.
His cases are cited some 500 times in various legal reports, and three are ranked among the top 15 most important in Canadian history.
“I think the system has become too complicated to be a justice system almost — we are getting there,” he warned. “I want the system to improve — it’s getting worse. I did a trial in Alberta that lasted 369 days. We cannot have it. It’s disgraceful. And I think we have to talk more about how to fix it.”
He said that means culturally, as the Supreme Court of Canada has stated, and in practice.
“There is a very, very big change taking place in our profession — we’re becoming too much of a business and too little of a profession,” Storrow suggested. “Lawyers have to keep in mind that they practise law not as a right, but with the permission of a statute. To me this means that the public is enabling us to practise law and to me that means that we should give something back to the public.”
He hates that law firms advertise.
“In my opinion, we shouldn’t allow that as a profession,” Storrow said. “It is not up to lawyers to tell the world how wonderful they are. I tried to persuade the Law Society to establish a rule prohibiting lawyers from advertising. I feel very strongly about lawyers and advertising. We have to always keep in mind that the legal profession is just that — a ‘profession.’”
But the man who was considered among the best cross-examiners of his generation said better trial management by judges and better training for lawyers is key.
“A lot of young people coming out of law school don’t really know what the court system is all about, how to deal with it efficiently,” Storrow said. “They haven’t been trained to do that. It’s hard to learn how to be a barrister. The most important ingredient of a good barrister is judgment, and that is very, very hard to teach.”
It needs to be done, though, he insists.
“If our system is only one that the wealthy can use, it’s not a justice system,” he said. “I think we have to sit down as a profession as well as the learned judges of the court systems and find a way to make the system more efficient. It ain’t science, kid, I can tell you that — and the older I get, the more I realize that.”