The Chief Justice presides at all sittings of the Court at which she is present. The Chief Justice divides the work of the Court by choosing the panels of Justices to hear the cases and motions brought before it.
The Chief Justice chairs the Canadian Judicial Council which is composed of all Chief Justices and Associate Chief Justices of superior courts in Canada. This body, established by the Judges Act, organizes seminars for federally appointed judges, coordinates the discussion of issues of concern to the judiciary, and conducts inquiries, either on public complaint or at the request of the federal Minister of Justice or a provincial Attorney General, into the conduct of any federally appointed judge.
The letters patent of 1947 respecting the office of Governor General provide that, should the Governor General die, become incapacitated or be absent from the country for a period of more than one month, the Chief Justice or, if that office is vacant, the senior puisne Justice of the Supreme Court, would become the Administrator of Canada and exercise all the powers and duties of the Governor General.
The Chief Justice also chairs the committee which advises the Governor General on awards of membership in the Order of Canada.
Finally, the Chief Justice and the other Justices of the Court serve as deputies of the Governor General for the purpose of giving royal assent to bills passed by Parliament, signing official documents or receiving credentials of newly appointed High Commissioners and Ambassadors.
The current Chief Justice is Beverley McLachlin. She is the first woman to hold this position, effectively making her the 3rd most powerful person in Canada, after the Governor General (Adrienne Clarkson) and the Prime Minister of Canada (Paul Martin). She was appointed in 2000 and was previously the Chief Justice of the British Columbia Supreme Court and a Justice on the British Columbia Court of Appeal. She also practiced law with various firms and taught law at the University of British Columbia. She was born in Pincher Creek, Alberta in 1943.