courts, law, lawyers, negotiation

What use is a lawyer anyway?

There is a place in Africa where, as a result of colonialism, geography, and local politics four nations; Botswana, Namibia,  Zambia and Zimbabwe all converge, creating a rare cartographic phenomenon called a ‘quadripoint’. The oddity  of a four way border exists because, in colonial times rivers made for easy borders. They were easy for everyone to understand, and, they didn’t have to be surveyed. The only real problem with using a river to denote a border is that the pesky things never stay still, constantly changing course and carving  out new channels. Botswana’s slice of the four way border marked in part by the  Zambezi River, for example, has shrunk to only some 150 yards of river frontage.

The problem becomes more apparent if one floats downstream from Kazungula, the actual site of the quadripoint, and onto the Chobe river where, just past the town of Kasane, Sedudu Island is encountered. The Chobe river is also an international boundary – between Botswana and Namibia- it was set by the Germans and the British as they were carving up that portion of Africa in 1890, with the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty, which stipulated the boundary to be “the thalweg of the main channel—of the Chobe River.”

Sedudu Island sits smack in the middle of the Chobe river, five square kilometres of prime grazing land with two wide channels around it, one flowing to the north,  (Namibia)and one to the south (Botswana)- so who does it belong to ? Both countries want it, Namibia to provide agricultural land for its growing population, and Botswana, for inclusion into Chobe National Park

The traditional way to resolve such a border dispute would have been armed conflict, with each side sending armed forces to claim, occupy, and defend the disputed land (and probably destroying it in the process.) But Botswana and Namibia, peace loving nations both, went a different route- they hired lawyers!

The dispute was submitted to the International Court of Justice in the Hague (best known as a soft berth for well-connected law professors looking for a European sabbatical) And the court, in proper lawyer-like fashion, tackled the dispute – taking some three years to ponder, at a leisurely pace, the proper interpretation of the 1890 treaty, the principles of international law and the empirical evidence dredged up (literally) by the lawyers for each nation.

At the end of the day, the dredging evidence held sway, and the court held that, taking into consideration the measured depth, width, and water flow of both channels, the northern channel won the title of “main Channel” and the island belonged to Botswana.

So, all in all, a victory for lawyers and the rule of law, and an armed conflict in a volatile part of the world averted. Remember that the next time someone asks  you ” what use is a lawyer anyway?)


courts, First Nations, law, Law Society of BC, lawyers, Legal Aid

2019 The legal year that was

I am continuing, with these jotting, a sporadic tradition of offering up some commentary on the legal year just past.

To my mind, one of the biggest legal events of 2019 was the maturing of the Civil Resolution Tribunal into a court with actual teeth, as our Attorney General stuck his toe into constitutional waters, Continue reading “2019 The legal year that was”

law, lawyers, memoirs

Takin’ care of business

As  technology marches ever onward the traditional bricks and mortar office  environment in which I have spent my entire working life seems to be becoming less and less relevant. No longer is it necessary to trudge into a physical work space in order to push paper. ( In fact, as I keep trying to explain to my present work-mates – you really don’t even need paper)

Indeed, years ago I quietly shortened my “in office” work time to four days a week  but since most of my interaction with clients was by phone or email, no-one really noticed. Now that I’m semi-retired  I’m down to two office days per week, and I know colleagues, both young and old, who have  done away with  their office entirely, working from the comfort of their home, from ‘the cloud’, or from a co-work space.

My younger colleagues may be surprised to learn however, that you don’t really need technology to break down those office walls, just a bit of imagination. Back before the invention of the personal computer I spent my summers sailing the BC coast, and discovered, at dockside on one of the smaller gulf islands, a dentist who had it all dialed in. He skippered a larger trawler yacht, kitted out with a dentist’s chair and all the fixings, and cruised the islands all summer, drilling teeth, then chillin’ on the aft deck. His boat, aptly enough, was named the “Tooth Ferry”.

For my part, as a young lawyer with an office in Nanaimo, I indulged my passion for the wilds of the west coast by running a small ad in the local Ucluelet paper once a month. The town then was lawyer-free, so I simply announced that a travelling lawyer would be in town, then made the trek out with my trusty VW Beetle, and set up shop in the local motel. A few hours of dispensing wills, divorces and incorporations, and I was free to tramp the beaches.

An old law partner of mine still gives a master class on re-inventing the office in order to find work/life balance, and he too is a product of the pre-computer, pre-smart phone era, so technology plays no role in his scheme. He works from home, and the only marketing he does is to show up at the local McDonald’s around 6:30 every morning to kibitz with the old timers who gather there for coffee and gossip.

The flow of work generated from that early morning coffee klatch is truly astounding- leading me to  dub the enterprise  “the 100 yard diet”. Good old fashioned  face to face interaction, it seems, beats Facebook every time !

courts, law, lawyers

Closure for Humboldt

Jaskirat  Singh Sidhu’s guilty plea to all charges of criminal negligence against him resulting from the horrific Humboldt Broncos bus crash was unexpected, and has set off a lively debate amongst the defense bar. The plea was either a shrewd legal move or a dumb maneuver bordering on incompetence. Criminal defense lawyers, many of whom have never met a microphone they didn’t like, Continue reading “Closure for Humboldt”