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Will be first from Nunavut to be appointed to bench

Iqaluit lawyer Neil Sharkey to become judge


Nunavut finally has its long-awaited fourth judge.

Rob Nicholson, the federal justice minister, announced Dec. 12 that Iqaluit lawyer Neil Sharkey will serve as Nunavut's new judge.

Sharkey, who has worked as the executive director of the Maliganiik Tukisiniakvik legal aid clinic and practiced with the Iqaluit Law Chambers since 2005, is to be sworn in Feb. 6.

The appointment is significant because it marks the first time a member of the Nunavut bar has become a judge, said Justice Beverly Browne in an interview.

"This time we've a got a homegrown lawyer who lived in Nunavut and practiced law here, so it's a very important chapter in the development of Nunavut," she said.

A fourth judge means the Nunavut Court of Justice will rely less on deputy judges brought in from the Northwest Territories and the south.

"People will get used to the judges that regularly come, rather than people who are coming up from the south to do the odd circuit every year," Browne said. "I think that's a better system of justice."

Browne also hopes Sharkey's appointment will help spur the development of Nunavut's bar, which she said could double in size and still provide plenty of work for every lawyer.

"One of the lawyers said to me Nunavut is the best-kept secret in the legal community," Browne said. "I wish the secret would get out. We could always use more lawyers."

Nunavut's justice department also welcomed the news.

"The need for an additional resident judge for Nunavut has been an extremely high priority for the government of Nunavut for several years," said Koovian Flanagan, deputy minister of justice, in an email message. 

Judges are appointed by the federal government. The proposal that led to Sharkey's appointment actually dates back to 2005, when the justice department and the Nunavut Court of Justice asked Ottawa to appoint a new judge.

The legislation required to hire Sharkey, and 19 other judges across the country, came into effect this past June, but Sharkey's appointment was delayed by October's federal election.

Browne said Sharkey will go to judge school in Quebec and should be on the bench within a month of his swearing-in.

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