The Honourable Ian Binnie sat on the Supreme Court of Canada from 1998 to 2011. During his almost fourteen year tenure, Justice Binnie penned some of the most well known legal decisions. Justice Binnie often articulated concrete tests over abstract principles in his judgments.
Judges, professors, and lawyers have frequently quoted Justice Binnie’s tests. The quotablility of Justice Binnie’s decisions have ensured the prominence and precedential value of his decisions for years to come.
In the book Made to Stick, Chip Heath and Dan Heath discuss what makes some ideas catch on over others. One of the key points that they highlight is concreteness. It’s easier to understand tangible actions than it is to understand abstract statements. “Abstraction makes it harder to understand an idea and to remember it. It also makes it harder to coordinate our activities with others, who may interpret the abstraction in very different ways.” With abstraction comes the risk of conveying nothing meaningful at all.
Judges often slip into abstraction because of expertise. “The difference between an expert and a novice is the ability to think abstractly” as highlighted when comparing jurors to judges.
Justice Binnie recognized the confusing effects of abstraction and leaned towards setting out clear factors over ambiguous principles. His tendency to convey concrete tests and allude to images made him one of the most highly regarded and quoted jurists of our time, ensuring the prominence and precedential value of his decisions for years to come.
Made to Stick is a must read for lawyers, judges, and teachers.