The Sunday Magazine

Beverley McLachlin's journey from top judge to crime novelist

Beverley McLachlin was in the public eye as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada for almost 18 years. What we didn't know was that she was crafting a work of crime fiction in her so-called spare time. It’s called Full Disclosure, and the Honourable Beverley McLachlin is Michael’s guest.
(Supplied by Beverley McLachlin, Evan Mitsui/CBC)
Beverley McLachlin was in the public eye as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada for almost 18 years. What we didn't know was that she was crafting a work of crime fiction in her so-called spare time. It’s called Full Disclosure, and the Honourable Beverley McLachlin is Michael’s guest. 26:03

Throughout her storied legal career, the ability to write clearly, concisely and with conviction has been a critical skill for the Honourable Beverley McLachlin. She has now added another "c" to that list of adjectives: creatively.

She has published her first work of crime fiction, just a few months after leaving her role as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Full Disclosure traces a high-profile murder trial in British Columbia, through the eyes of an astute defence attorney named Jilly Truit, a character who is a composite of lawyers the author has known through her career, with perhaps some of her own personality traits tossed into the mix.

In conversation with Michael Enright, the former Chief Justice discusses some of the legal underpinnings of her novel and explains what motivated her to write it.

You can't be a full-time writer and full-time judge.- Beverley McLachlin

The seeds of this book were sown very early in Ms. McLachlin's legal career, when she first began to practise law and was teaching at the University of British Columbia.

"There was a publisher interested, but at that point I was offered a position on the bench," she says, "so I had to make a choice. You can't be a full-time writer and full-time judge."

In 1981, McLachlin accepted a post as a local county court judge in B.C. and five months later was named to the province's Supreme Court. She served there for four years before her appointment to the B.C. Court of Appeal. In 1988, she became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, and a year later was appointed to the bench of the Supreme Court of Canada.

In January of 2000, McLachlin took office as Canada's Chief Justice, the first woman to hold that post.

For most of that time, 36 years, she shelved the beginnings of her novel, then resurrected it as she approached her retirement from the bench.

Is this the time to follow this dream and either decide whether I can do it or I can't do it?- Beverley McLachlin

She reminded herself at the time, "I've still got this idea, and it's still at the back of my head, and it's still coming back all the time, so I'd better do something about it."

 Her role model was P. D. James, the highly-successful and prolific British crime fiction writer who held down a full-time job and got up at 5 a.m. to craft her novels.

McLachlin thought, "Is this the time to follow this dream and either decide whether I can do it or I can't do it? I had no great expectations, but I needed to get it out of my system."

She began the discipline of getting up at 5 a.m. and venturing to her home office to work on the novel, confessing that she had occasional doubts about the process.

"I thought why am I doing this at this stage? I've had a fabulous career in the law. I've really enjoyed being a judge. That's always going to be the centrepiece of my life, and so why am I indulging in what some people would say is a rather frivolous frolic, and maybe something I won't even do very well at? Why am I sticking my neck out like that?" she says, adding, "It was really quite surprising to me when somebody actually wanted to print it."

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