Maurice Copithourne Q.C. was born and educated in Vancouver. He graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1955 with a B.A. - L.L.B. He was called to the Bar of British Columbia in 1956 and then joined the Canadian Foreign Service.
During his 30 years with the Department of External Affairs, he served 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 (including the Chairmanship of the International Atomic Energy Board of Governors 1980-81), Assistant Under Secretary of State for Asia and the Pacific 1982-1983 and Canadian Commissioner to Hong Kong 1983-1986. He was a Fellow of the Weatherhead Centre of International Affairs, Harvard University 1974-1975. In 1986, he retired from the Foreign Service to take up a visiting professorship at the Faculty of Law at the University of British Columbia. He continues to teach there as an Honorary Professor. He also teaches public international law at Royal Roads University in Victoria. From 1987 to 1999, he was associate counsel at Ladner Downs, Barristers & Solicitors, in Vancouver.
He has held a variety of external appointments including, particularly, that of United Nations Special Representative on the Human Rights Situation in Iran, 1995 -2002.
He has received several awards and honours. In January 1981 he was appointed Queen's Counsel (Q.C.) by the Attorney General of Canada; he was the recipient in November 1997 of the U.B.C. Alma Mater Society "Great Trekker Award" as an "Outstanding Alumnus"; he was recipient in December 2000 of the Renata Shearer Award for an "outstanding contribution to human rights". He was awarded an honorary degree by the University of British Columbia in May 2003.