Vancouver's van Ert named new SCC executive legal officer

The Supreme Court of Canada has announced the appointment of a new executive legal officer. Joining the court for a new two-year term is Gib van Ert, a Vancouver lawyer at Hunter Litigation Chambers.

Van Ert will replace litigator Owen Rees who served three years in the position.

Van Ert clerked for the Supreme Court in 2003, under former justices Charles Gonthier and Morris Fish, before being called to the bar in 2004. He is a civil litigator at Hunter Litigation and well-known for his writing on international and constitutional law. (He’s also written a well-received personal memoir on his boyhood fascination with Star Wars.)

“It is an honour to have been appointed and I look forward to starting work,” van Ert told Legal Feeds in a short message.

In a written statement [], Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin thanked Rees for his public service.

“Mr. Rees has provided invaluable assistance and advice during his tenure at the Court, for which I am very grateful,” McLachlin said.

McLachlin also welcomed the new ELO, who will travel to Ottawa for meetings this month before formally beginning his term at the end of September.

“Mr. van Ert brings to the position a broad range of experience and talents as legal counsel and as a distinguished scholar, which will serve the court well in the coming years.”

The ELO position is a mainly administrative but pivotal position. It involves assisting the chief justice with the day-to-day management of the court, handling interactions with the Canadian Judicial Council and National Judicial Institute, as well as briefing the media on the court’s judgments.

Candidates, typically mid-career lawyers drawn from private practice or academia, are offered the rare chance to spend a couple of years interacting with the top legal minds in the country. Former ELOs who’ve risen to prominence include McGill Law dean Daniel Jutras, justices Robert Sharpe and James McPherson at the Ontario Court of Appeal, as well as current SCC Justice Thomas Cromwell.

On the phone with Legal Feeds, Rees declined to comment on his term as ELO or the new appointment, noting that “the ELO is there to serve the court, and not to publicize himself or promote himself.”

That being said, Rees did express gratitude for the opportunity: “It’s been a tremendous honour and privilege serving the Chief and the court, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. The three years have been endlessly interesting and challenging and enjoyable. That’s really all I can say.”

Rees, who will be returning to his civil litigation practice at Stockwoods in Toronto, had worked for the Supreme Court previously. Following his call to the bar in 2003, he clerked for former justice Louis LeBel.

He followed that up by co-founding and, until 2011, serving as executive director of the Supreme Court Advocacy Institute, which provides advice to lawyers scheduled to appear before the SCC.

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