Professor Copithorne’s impressive career spanned six decades, during which he specialized in international law. After being called to the BC Bar in 1956, Copithorne joined the Canadian Foreign Service, where he spent the next 30 years in a wide variety of positions both in Ottawa and abroad. Among those were Legal Advisor and Director General of Legal Affairs (1975-1979), Canadian Ambassador to Austria and UN Agencies in Vienna (1979-1982), which also included the Chairmanship of the International Atomic Energy Board of Governors from 1980 to 1981, Assistant Under Secretary of State for Asia and the Pacific (1982-1983) and Canadian Commissioner to Hong Kong (1983- 1986). He retired from the Foreign Service in 1986 to take a visiting professorship position with the law school at UBC.
In addition to teaching, he held a variety of external appointments including United Nations Special Representative on the Human Rights Situation in Iran (1995-2002) and was active in a variety of other professional and community groups including the UBC International House Advisory Board. He was a fellow at the Harvard Centre for International Affairs (1974-1975).
He received several awards and honours including being appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1981, the Great Trekker Award from the UBC Alma Mater Society in 1997, and the Renata Shearer Award for “outstanding contributions to human rights” in 2000. He received an honourary degree from UBC in 2003.
Professor Copithorne was the eighteenth recipient of the John E. Read Medal, bestowed by The Canadian Council on International Law. This medal commemorates the life and work of John E. Read, a distinguished member of the International Court of Justice. The awards are granted to Canadians who have made a distinguished contribution to international law and organizations and to non-Canadians who have made an outstanding contribution to international law and organizations in the fields of special interest to Canada.