THE ADVOCATE 335
VOL. 80 PART 3 MAY 2022
By the Honourable Mary Humphries
Is it true you once had to take your pants off to appear in court?” The
venue was a conference on women’s rights at UBC in the mid-1970s.
The mischievous questioner was a law student, the late Leslie Pinder,
Q.C., subsequently an Indigenous rights lawyer and noted
Those who have read Nancy’s memoir, Benched: Passion for Law Reform,
published in 2018, will be familiar with the story. Nancy, a young prosecutor
in 1970 who had recently arrived in British Columbia from
Saskatchewan with eight years at the bar, had been severely admonished by
her supervisor, the legendary Stewart McMorran, later a judge of the
County Court, for appearing in court in a pantsuit. One of her colleagues,
Peter Ritchie, says he found Nancy alone in her office at 312 Main Street,
angry and humiliated, but determined not to give up or give in.
As at so many times in her life, Nancy found herself having to find her
own way to deal with being a female in the law. While she has always
acknowledged the service done for her clients by a neat and professional
appearance in court, she took off her suit pants and dealt with the list in the
(just-long-enough) tunic top of her pantsuit.
Coping with the unexpected is a way of life for any young (or old) barrister,
but Nancy had an extra dose of the unexpected at the outset of her
career. She discovered an interest in litigation early, but her subsequent
hunt for a job as a litigator was dispiriting, as women were clearly not
required in the legal profession, except perhaps to do solicitor’s work—very
valuable in itself, but not what Nancy wanted to do.