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In Pursuit of Truth and Justice

Posted by Amanda Kirby-Sheppard on September 11, 2023 in News, Alumni & Friends, Students
George Philp (Provided Photo)
George Philp (Provided Photo)

This story originally appeared in the 2023 edition of Hearsay, the Schulich School of Law Alumni Magazine.

The Schulich School of Law Internship Program was first introduced in 2009. Since then, the program has awarded $2.6 million in funds and has placed 429 students with 178 organizations around the world, becoming the largest paid summer internship program for law students in the country.

One of the very first placements created for Schulich Law students was the Honourable Gordon Stewart Cowan Court of Appeal Internship (Cowan Internship). The opportunity was made possible due to a generous 2007 bequest from the estate of the Hon. Gordon Stewart Cowan, former Chief Justice of the Trial Division of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, and a distinguished graduate of Dalhousie Law School.

The Cowan Internship supports an annual summer placement at the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, the province’s highest court. To be considered, students must achieve high academic standing, with demonstrated legal research skills, following their second year of law school. The successful student is assigned a research project and works under the direction of a justice of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, writing a paper for the Court.

“Since the establishment of the fund, a wide variety of papers have been produced on a range of topics which, we hope, have been of use to the Judges of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia,” says Hugh Cowan, son of the late Chief Justice Cowan. “On behalf of my siblings (Hon. James (Jim) Cowan, Dr. Joan Backman), I can say we have been impressed by the range of practical, relevant topics that have been researched, with the potential to improve the efficiency and accessibility of the judicial system.”

George Philp (’23) was awarded the internship in 2022. A 2L student at the time, he spent the summer researching and drafting a report under the supervision of Justice Farrar, regarding the future of virtual courts in Canada, post-COVID-19 pandemic.

“The report I prepared provides a comparative analysis of the use of virtual proceedings in the superior courts across Canada, as pandemic restrictions ease and/or are removed entirely,” explains Philp. “It also considers what policies are in place in other Canadian jurisdictions for the use of virtual proceedings, and in particular the process and criteria for selecting the method of hearing, virtual versus in person.”

The report also offers an analysis of the types of cases and parties at the trial and appellate level that are best suited to virtual court and what amendments should be made to the Nova Scotia Civil Procedure Rules to accommodate virtual hearings.

And while Philp would be the first to say that he learned a great deal about the impact of virtual proceedings on the administration of justice through his research, it was the opportunity to spend time observing the various processes and protocols of the Nova Scotia Law Courts that had the biggest impact on him.

“The Cowan Internship was the highlight of my law school career,” he shares. “It is because of my experiences at the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, through this internship, that I developed my passion for criminal law. This led me to enroll in Criminal Procedure in my third year of law school, as well as consider career opportunities in this area of the legal system.”

Philp says that one trial in particular–a first-degree murder case– had a lasting impact on him. “It wasn’t so much about the case but instead it was getting to see the justice system in action, working the way it was meant to, that really struck me. It was a shining example of everyone working together in the pursuit of truth and justice, acting in the public’s best interest.”

Philp was impressed with the level of commitment and professionalism he witnessed. “The Crown and defence attorneys were entirely respectful of each other, the jury was exceptionally focused and the judge was knowledgeable and in control of the courtroom. I found the whole process to be invigorating and I knew then that I wanted to be a part of that system.”

Overall, he says, the internship was a truly formative experience. He recalls how judges encouraged him to observe court, giving him the opportunity to take in a variety of proceedings, including criminal trials (judge-alone and jury), sentencing hearings, bail hearings, appeals, chamber applications and more.

“I got to be a sponge–soaking up as much as I could about the law and the justice system by attending hearings and trials and discussing cases with judges. When I had questions about civil or criminal procedure or the status of the law surrounding a case, I was able to call on the experience of the law clerks and it helped us develop strong working relationships.”

“The Cowan Internship ultimately changed my articling trajectory from pursuing my articles with a full-service law firm to articling with the Public Prosecution Service. I will always be grateful that I had the chance to learn so much, in such a short period of time.”

In a lucky twist of fate, Philp got an unexpected opportunity to thank the late Chief Justice’s eldest son, Jim, face-to-face for his family’s generous contribution to the internship, with a chance meeting on a chairlift at a Nova Scotia ski hill in the winter of 2023.

“Knowing how interested Dad was in the administration of justice in Nova Scotia, I’d like to say that on behalf of myself and my siblings, we are delighted to have been able to continue to offer this type of opportunity to Schulich Law students, and to be part of this lasting memory of our father,” says Cowan.

Philp graduated in June 2023 and is now articling with the Public Prosecutions Division at the Department of Justice and Public Safety in St. John’s, N.L.