John Howard Sissons (1892-1969)


  • M.M. de Weerdt



Art, Art collections, Biographies, Court workers, Culture (Anthropology), Customary law, History, Inuit, Judicial systems, Law, Sissons-Morrow Collection, Sissons, John Howard, 1892-1969, N.W.T., Nunavut


Dubbed a "living legend" in his own lifetime, the late Honourable John Howard Sissons is still remembered as a staunchly independent, even idiosyncratic, pioneer judge during the critical years 1955-66 in the Northwest Territories of Canada. ... As recently as January 1990, Natural History ... published an article entitled "Images of Justice," which features some of the Inuit carvings donated by "Judge Sissons" ... to the Sissons-Morrow Collection on display in the Court House at Yellowknife. These carvings and the article based on them illustrate the extraordinary period during which Sissons held office as the only resident judge of what was then the Territorial Court of the Northwest Territories in the eleven-year period following his appointment to that office in 1955. Each of the carvings depicts, with a good deal of artistic licence, a scene that calls up the facts of a case that came before the Territorial Court (renamed the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories in 1972) either in Sisson's time or that of his successor the (now late) Mr. Justice William George Morrow. ... The collection is believed to be unique and draws many visitors to the Court House who would otherwise not go there. ... Tempering the rigours of the Criminal Code and of the rules of evidence and criminal procedure to meet the exigencies of the situation before him, Sissons frequently decided the case (or directed the jury to do so) with a view to ensuring that justice was done with due regard for the cultural factors present. He saw himself, and no doubt acted, as the champion of the underdog, usually the accused person in a criminal case. He would, nevertheless, convict an accused where the accused was clearly shown to be guilty and the victim of the offence had clearly been wronged by the accused, .... Native customs in relation to marriage and child adoption were recognized by Sissons in a series of cases in the 1960s. The precedents that he set in respect of child adoptions by native custom were later upheld by the Court of Appeal of the Northwest Territories and are still frequently applied by the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories. An important element of the native heritage has in this way been preserved by the courts following his early lead. ...






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