Let Justice Be Done

  • December 01, 2018
  • Randy Robinson

Envisioning reconciliation in education

Indigenous law was not recognized until recently, Indigenous legal orders lived justice in the dances, songs and words of the ancestors. In Canada, this legal order was disrupted by the imposition of colonialism in the form of residential schools, the sixties/ millennium scoop, racist policies and laws that prevented Indigenous peoples from participating in society as a whole – namely – the prohibition of retaining a lawyer, applying the law or even to becoming a lawyer. Indigenous language had a lexicon that directed a system of just protocols grounded in time and culture. The loss of language initiated furthermore a loss of knowledge about Indigenous justice customs and methodologies for education.

During law school at the Peter A. Allard School of Law students are introduced to the maxim: Fiat justitia ruat coelum – “Let Justice be done though the heavens fall” on many occasions.

The maxim is rooted in an ancient metaphor commonly associated with the play Heauton Timorumenos by Terence. The phrase was later used in the famous case of Somerset v Stewart of the Court of King’s Bench in 1772. This case presided over by Lord Mansfield, pertained to a legal question of whether the law would permit a person (slave or non-slave) be removed from England against their will. Lord Mansfield ruled they could not be removed against their will because such removal was not permitted at common law or by an Act of Parliament. Somerset did not address the humanitarian implications of slavery. The ruling would have a significant impact on society and the horrific existence of slavery because some estimate that there were more than 15,000 enslaved individuals in England at the time. Lord Mansfield stated in his judgment: “let justice be done whatever the consequence.”

This article aims to highlight the links between the metaphoric phrase and the possible interpretations that can be developed through truth and reconciliation orientated educational goals in law and justice. This text moves beyond envisioning the non-Indigenous hero saving the day, or the topic of slavery, rather to explore the metaphoric phrase and the role of justice actors and how important the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action (“CTA”) is. The present-day CTA regarding justice and education may be viewed as an opportunity to explore reconciliatory initiatives and consequences in relation to the metaphoric phrase.

Law schools play an important role for Indigenous peoples. The Canadian Counsel of Law School Deans (“CLSD”) have summarized the ways that law schools are taking action. Some examples include adapting first year core curriculum that addresses Aboriginal law, hiring Indigenous faculty, Indigenous focused mooting, physical gathering sites for Indigenous students, committees and venues for obtaining Indigenous input. It is essential that legal educators participate in these direct applications of their impacts and significant consequences in relation to the Calls to Action of this implementation.

The far-reaching impacts of implementing the CTA will consequently require making changes to the legal education system that disrupts how law schools have operated for centuries. For example: how and who teaches Indigenous laws in law schools, how Indigenous laws are evaluated and who can participate in designated supportive spaces that are meant for Indigenous students to gather.

Though much is being done to implement the CTA, the question remains, how does this translate into a more informed legal profession? Law students that have gained exposure to Indigenous law, self-determined Indigenous representations of justice, dialogue and supportive spaces for reconciliation will be more prepared to contribute to the legal profession in its current goals toward reconciliation and diversity. Particularly, these students will gain valuable knowledge about how to engage in opportunities that favour reconciliation in the legal profession. In the spirit of truth and reconciliation “let justice be done.”


Randy Robinson is an Algonquin from the Timiskaming First Nation and he practises law on unceded Coast Salish territory in British Columbia. He is currently appointed the Northern Representative of the Canadian Bar Association’s Aboriginal Lawyer’s Forum.