Queen's Law

Faculty of Law
Faculty of Law

Law’76 grad Cromwell receives one of Canada’s highest honours 

(January 8, 2018)

The Honourable Thomas Cromwell, CC, Law’76, LLD’10
The Honourable Thomas Cromwell, CC, Law’76, LLD’10 (Photo by Andrew Van Overbeke)

The Honourable Thomas Cromwell, Law’76, LLD’10 (Mus’73), has served on the country’s top court and continues to champion a cultural change in the justice system. For his “illustrious service” as a Supreme Court of Canada justice and for his leadership in improving access to justice for all Canadians, Governor General Julie Payette has appointed him a Companion of the Order of Canada.

“I like to think that the honour is not so much a personal one as one given in a representative capacity,” says Cromwell. “The award to me I hope recognizes the work by hundreds of people with whom I have had the good fortune to work over many years and whose dedication to improving the administration of justice has never failed to inspire me. The motto of the order, ‘they desire a better country,’ sums up the passion that so many people bring to this work and I believe that this honour is really for them.”

In 2008, Cromwell began his eight-year tenure on the Supreme Court bench (see Queen’s Law Reports 2009), and was appointed by then-Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin as Chair of the National Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. At her request upon his 2016 retirement from the SCC, he has stayed on in that position. 

His career and legacy are the focus of the November 2017 volume of the Supreme Court Law Review and its standalone collection, In Furtherance of Justice: The Judicial Life of Thomas A. Cromwell. (See the story “Chronicling Cromwell’s contributions to Canadian law.”) Those publications were the inspiration for a symposium held in his honour last September as part of the Queen’s Law at 60 Homecoming. (See the article “‘Quintessential common law judge’ Cromwell honoured at Queen’s symposium.”) 

The author of almost 100 decisions, Cromwell has contributed to legal developments in many areas of public and private law. Whether it’s digital privacy, contract law, constitutional law or restitution, there is a landmark decision written by him on each.  

His substantive contributions to access to justice include changing the discourse, introducing new rigour and promoting the scholarship surrounding the issue. A culture shift within the profession and a movement to provide greater access to justice to all members of society have also been attributed to him.  

“There are so many challenges!” exclaims Cromwell, referring to the most pressing justice issue in recent years. “Two of them are filling the gap in legal services and helping the broader public understand why a strong civil and family justice system matters to them. Thanks to the Ontario Law Foundation and Calibrate Solutions, the Action Committee has done some important public engagement work around our Justice Development Goals and we are starting to see real engagement with the legal services gap. For example, in Ontario, we have seen regulatory openness to not-for-profit law firms and legal services provided by paralegals. 

“These are encouraging signs,” he continues, “but we still are addressing only the tip of the iceberg in terms of reimaging legal services delivery to those who need those services.”

Fortunately for Canadians, this new Companion of the Order of Canada says he is “very excited to be continuing this work … and doing it with great enthusiasm.”

By Lisa Graham