Governing from the Bench: The Supreme Court of Canada and the Judicial Role


Emmett Macfarlane,  Department of Political Science, University of Waterloo, Ontario.


As Canada’s final court of appeal, the Supreme Court is a crucial component of the country’s legal system. Yet, for much of
its almost 140-year history, the highest court in the land dwelled in relative obscurity. More than thirty years since the advent of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which transformed the court’s function and thrust its work into the national spotlight,
many of us are still in the dark about the Supreme Court’s role– in part because there has been relatively little empirical
investigation into how the institution works.

In Governing from the Bench, Emmett Macfarlane draws on interviews with current and former justices, law clerks, and other
staff members of the court to shed light on the institution’s internal environment and decision-making processes. He explores the
complex role of the Supreme Court as an institution; exposes the rules, conventions, and norms that shape and constrain its justices’ behaviour; and situates the court in its broader governmental and societal context, as it relates to the elected branches of government, the media, and the public. At once enlightening and engaging, Governing from the Bench is a much-needed and comprehensive exploration of an institution that touches the lives of all Canadians.

‘While the importance of the Supreme Court has grown considerably in the Charter era, far too little is known about it. Well written and highly readable, Governing from the Bench contributes significantly to our understanding of the court and its work.’
– Grant Huscroft, Professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Western Ontario

‘Providing fresh material — including interviews with justices and law clerks — within a role-based framework, Emmett Macfarlane paints a very clear picture of the Supreme Court as an institution.’ – Lawrence Baum, Professor of Political Science at Ohio State University

Book Details

  • Series: Law and Society Series
  • Publisher: UBC Press (July 1, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0774823518
  • ISBN-13: 978-0774823517


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