Just days after retiring from the Supreme Court of Canada, Ian Binnie has disproved the adage that old judges simply fade away by landing a high-profile appointment from the New Zealand government.
Mr. Binnie will conduct an inquiry into whether a man exonerated after being convicted of multiple murder should be compensated for spending 13 years in prison. If Mr. Binnie concludes that David Bain fits the country’s criteria for compensation, he will propose a suitable amount.
Mr. Bain – who lives in Dunedin, New Zealand – was acquitted in 2009 at his third trial in the murder of four family members. His first two trials resulted in convictions.
Mr. Binnie joins a growing list of Canadian jurists asked to play important roles abroad. Louise Arbour left the Supreme Court several years ago to become United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Supreme Court colleague Peter Cory was appointed by the British government to head an inquiry into six suspicious deaths in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Binnie said in an interview on Wednesday that the appointment is an ideal landing pad for his return to legal practice. The appointment involves a subject that is near to his heart – wrongful convictions – and provides a cooling off period before he joins a Canadian law firm to work on domestic cases, he said.
“It’s a very nice assignment to get,” Mr. Binnie said. “This is an area of great interest to me.
“The New Zealand government decided they needed a judge from outside the country because it has become quite a political issue,” he added. “My impression is that it is a small legal community. I understand that they just thought it would appear better to have somebody totally unconnected with the New Zealand judiciary to undertake the job.”
Peter Hogg, a former New Zealander and top constitutional scholar, said Canadian judges have a sterling reputation abroad. The Canadian criminal justice system also mirrors that of other Commonwealth countries, he said.
“Ian Binnie’s high personal reputation may not be widely understood Down Under, but he will be known to many judges and lawyers down there,” said Mr. Hogg, a lawyer with the law firm Blakes. “His reputation will have been communicated to their Department of Justice, who will relay it to their media. And, of course, he will not disappoint.”
The Bain case is regarded as particularly complex because Mr. Bain was acquitted after a retrial. The country’s compensation framework requires claimants not simply to be acquitted of a crime, but to prove their innocence.
Mr. Binnie has had personal experience with wrongful convictions. Before he was appointed to the Supreme Court, he helped represent Guy Paul Morin, an Ontario man convicted and later exonerated in the 1984 murder of his next-door neighbour, Christine Jessop.
Although he officially retired on Oct. 21, Mr. Binnie can participate in reserved judgments for six more months. He said that he will likely travel to New Zealand in January to start work on the Bain case.
Mr. Binnie said that he intends to join a Toronto law firm after his assignment is complete. He will do any work that does not involve courtroom litigation. “The rule is that I can’t appear in any court of the same level or below, so I am done with the courts,” he said.