Government of Canada introduces legislation to foster greater confidence in the judicial system
May 25, 2021 – Ottawa, Ontario – Department of Justice Canada
Canadians should have full confidence in their judicial system. Maintaining this confidence requires that there be an accountable, transparent and fiscally responsible process for the handling of complaints against federally appointed judges.
Today, on behalf of the Government of Canada, Senator Marc Gold introduced legislative amendments to the Judges Act that aim to strengthen the judicial complaints process that was originally established 50 years ago. While there have been updates to the process over the years, it is time to fully reform how complaints are dealt with.
The proposals would amend and streamline the process for more serious complaints, where removal from the bench could be an outcome. The current process is cumbersome, costly and can be prolonged for years. It needs to be updated in order to make the system less expensive and time-consuming.
These amendments would also address the current process’ shortcomings by imposing mandatory sanctions on a judge when a complaint of misconduct is found to be justified, but to not be serious enough to warrant removal from office. Such sanctions would include counselling, continuing education and reprimands.
The Canadian Judicial Council (CJC) is responsible for administering the judicial conduct process. This legislation would require that the CJC include in its annual public report the number of complaints received and how they were resolved.
Public consultations conducted by the federal government in 2016 informed the work on developing these amendments, with the goal of enacting reforms while respecting the constitutional principle of judicial independence.
“Canadians need to know that the judicial system is fair to all. Canadian society is changing and so are our expectations of judicial behaviour and accountability. While rare, complaints against judges that could result in removal from the bench should be dealt with in a more timely, cost-effective and fair manner. This bill aims to accomplish that. Also, for the first time, judges would be accountable for less serious – but nevertheless consequential – instances of misconduct. These proposed amendments grew out of the consultations held in 2016 and I am pleased to be able to put forward a revamped process that will increase Canadians’ trust in the judicial system.”
The Honourable David Lametti, P.C., Q.C., M.P.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
The Canadian Judicial Council (CJC), created in 1971, comprises all of Canada’s federally appointed chief and associate chief justices, and independently investigates complaints of misconduct against federally appointed judges.
The CJC’s process applies only to federally-appointed judges, which are the judges of the Supreme Court of Canada and federal courts, the provincial and territorial superior trial courts, and the provincial and territorial courts of appeal. The provinces and territories are responsible for reviewing the conduct of the judges of the lowest level of provincial/territorial trial court, which are provincially-appointed.
Since its inception in 1971, the CJC completed inquiries into eight complaints considered serious enough that they could warrant removal from the bench; four of them did result in recommendations for removal. A ninth inquiry is currently under way.
The CJC would continue to preside over the proposed process, which would start with a three-person review panel deciding to either investigate a complaint of misconduct or, if the complaint is serious enough that it might warrant removal from the bench, refer it to a separate five-person hearing panel.
If appropriate, a three-person review panel made up of a CJC member, a judge and a layperson could impose such sanctions as public apologies or courses of continuing education.
If warranted, a five-person hearing panel, made up of two CJC members, a judge, a lawyer and a layperson could recommend removal from the bench to the Minister of Justice, after holding a public hearing.
Judges who face removal from the bench would have access to an appeal panel made up of three CJC members and two judges and, finally, to the Supreme Court of Canada, should the Court agree to hear the appeal. This would streamline the current process for court review of Council decisions, which involves judicial review by two additional levels of court, the Federal Court and Federal Court of Appeal, before a judge can ask the Supreme Court of Canada to hear their case.
The amendments would also provide for a funding mechanism for the new process.
For more information, media may contact:
Director of Communications
Office of the Minister of Justice
Department of Justice Canada
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