Thompson Rivers University

From Cariboo College to Supreme Court bench

July 4, 2023

Much has changed in Kamloops since Cariboo College alum, Justice Joel Groves, started his post-secondary journey in 1977. The city’s population has nearly doubled, Cariboo College has become Thompson Rivers University and Groves is no longer a McDonald’s employee. He is now a BC Supreme Court judge and one of TRU’s distinguished alumni.

man in judges robes standing

Justice Joel Groves

Upon high school graduation 45 years ago, Groves knew he wanted to pursue a post-secondary education but was grateful for the opportunity to start the journey close to home.

“I was really fortunate be able to take the path I did. When you grow up in a smaller community — and Kamloops was a lot smaller back then — being thrown into classes of 100 or 150 people would have been difficult, at least for me,” says Groves. “I got a good grounding at Cariboo College. I learned what was expected at university without the additional distraction of moving to a big city where I didn’t know anybody.”

Following his first year of university prep courses, Groves transferred to the University of Victoria where he earned a Bachelor of Arts (honours) in political science and subsequently completed his law degree at UBC. Called to the bar in 1985, Groves chose to return home to Kamloops where he practised for 15 years before taking his first judicial position. He was appointed a Master of the Supreme Court of BC in 2000 (a junior judge position) and has been a Justice of the Supreme Court of BC since 2005.

Working as a Supreme Court judge involves plenty of travel and a lot of variety. Groves jokingly admits that he knows the entire province based on where certain bank machines and the best restaurants are located. The variety of cases he sees is also extensive, from family to criminal cases and all areas in between.

Much of Groves’s early career was spent as a family law litigator. Whether as a lawyer or judge, he says helping people through difficult situations is a satisfying component of his work.

“People really struggle when their relationships break down, because of the uncertainty of what it means for their finances and their homes and what that means for their kids,” he says. “I always try in rendering decisions in family law cases to give everybody a pathway to succeed and move forward.”

TRU Distinguished Alumni

In 2005, Groves received a TRU Distinguished Alumni Public Service Award that highlighted his extensive community involvement, including his work with the United Way and the Phoenix Centre.  While in Kamloops, he also served as president of both the Kamloops Bar Association and the Kamloops Family Bar Association. Additionally, he served as the pro bono legal counsel for the Kamloops Sexual Assault Counselling Centre for 15 years.

Groves says he considers Kamloops home, but toward the end of his master’s appointment, he moved to Vancouver, where he still lives.

“I wanted to have a bit broader of an experience,” he says, adding that his work as a presider takes him all over the province and he is thankful to spend a significant of time working in Kamloops, where much of his family still resides, including his 96-year-old mother, Delilah. “Though I’ve lived in Vancouver nearly 20 years, I feel like I’ve never really left Kamloops. It will always be home.”

As he nears retirement, Groves recently chose to become a supernumerary judge, scaling back his workload and starting to envision a future where he spends more time at his property on East Barriere Lake and less time presiding over court cases.

“This is the first summer that I’m basically on the half-time gig and my plan is to spend a lot more time at the lake and do all those cabin projects I’ve been meaning to do for a number of years and haven’t gotten around to,” he says.

Reducing his work hours does not mean Groves isn’t busy — he has merely slowed to a less frenetic pace. Being a judge is more than just sitting in court — written decisions are also required, sometimes topping 40 pages per case. With multiple cases often happening over the same period, the workload can be intense. After more than 17 years of doing it full-time, he’s embracing the slowdown but says he still enjoys the places his work takes him — on the bench and off.

In his spare time, Groves gets satisfaction from giving back to others in the judicial community. He has been on the board of the Canadian Superior Court Judges Association for more than a decade and has been on the executive for five of those, serving as president in 2021-22.

“It’s been a real highlight for me because it’s great to do service on behalf of other judges and to represent them at a national body,” he says, explaining that the national association is committed to protecting judicial independence and advocating for the rights of federally appointed judges.

He also gives back to the legal community by sharing knowledge with the next generation of legal professionals. He’s taught several sessions at TRU Law, including a course on judicial ethics and one on family law. Prior to law school, Groves considered becoming a teacher, so finding himself in a teaching position feels somewhat like a dream come true.

“I’ve really enjoyed those experiences,” he says. “It’s so refreshing to see people starting their careers with a level of keenness, a level of wanting to do service — having altruistic goals and having not yet been seduced by the money associated with being a lawyer. It’s been a real pleasure and I would welcome any further opportunity to do more.”

Advice from the bench

Asked whether he has any advice for aspiring judges, Groves offered a few tips:

  • Patience. To become a Supreme Court judge, you must be a practicing lawyer for 10 years, but the reality is more like 15-20.
  • Litigation experience. Having court experience is vital for those seeking a judicial appointment.
  • Broad background. Courts in BC are not specialized, so there is an expectation that judges are able to provide sound judgments in a number of different legal areas.
  • Volunteer. Showing you are committed to your community is a key component to being a good judge and volunteering is a perfect way to use your skills in the service of others.

Related Posts