Canada’s retiring chief justice, Beverley McLachlin, reflected on her 28 years on the bench of the country’s highest court in a news conference Friday, offering thoughts on her toughest decisions, the current state of the justice system, and her plans for retirement.

On the case she struggled with the most:

“I struggled with almost every one, so it’s hard for me to pick out one, because the Supreme Court gets, by definition, only difficult legal issues… One of the most challenging cases – since I know you want a case – was the (Quebec) secession reference. It was very challenging because it was at the edge, at that fine line, between constitutional law and political matters. We had to be very careful about what we said and what we did. And we had a very difficult question to answer. We had a task of giving such guidance that would be positive and helpful to Canada and the people who were involved in making these decisions about Canada’s future… And I think it stood up very, very well, both nationally and internationally, if I may say so. I know I shouldn’t judge our own work.”

On the problem of delays in the criminal justice system:

“We have a very good legal system in terms of jurisprudence, rulings from the bench, that kind of thing. But – and I’ve been talking about this for some time -- we have a problem with access to justice, which is a broad term that covers delays, costs, anything that prevents people from getting ready access to justice… We need to speed up our criminal process. We know that, since the Jordan case spoke about that so eloquently. I can tell you that the justice ministry, attorneys general, and judges are focusing on this problem and making systemic changes to ensure that we can meet the Charter requirement of a criminal trial in a reasonable time.

On her desire to focus her retirement on improving the system:

“I go to conferences where I’m so impressed with all the small things that are being done (to improve access to justice) -- like information in the courtroom; like building hubs where people can go to get legal information; like pro bono work, limited legal services to get you through to the next step. There’s much being done and there’s much more we can do. And I’m hoping when I retire, I can continue, in some way, of pushing this access to justice and making justice more accessible.”

On the decline of the rule of law in some parts of the world, and what Canada can do to defend judicial independence:

“We have some wonderful Constitutional safeguards... We have deep respect for our Charter of Rights and Freedoms among the people of Canada. And we have a public that values an independent judiciary -- which is the best defence, in the final analysis. If the people stand up and say, ‘You can’t attack our judiciary, we want an independent judiciary,’ that is, in a democracy such as ours, the best way to preserve judicial independence.”

On the war of words with the former Harper government over the defeated nomination of Quebec justice Marc Nadon:

“I don’t think I have much more to say on that. I have spoken about it as much as I was prepared to at the time – which was very little… Basically, it was something that happened. It all turned out fine, and I really don’t think I have much more to add to what I’ve already put on the record.”