Judicial appointments a process that can’t be rushed

TheStar.com – Opinion/Contributors
Sept. 17, 2018.   By

Appointing judges is one of the most important responsibilities that I have as minister of justice and attorney general of Canada.

Consider this. A federally appointed judge can sit until age 75. That judge will hear the most important cases in our legal system: criminal trials involving murders and sexual assaults, civil cases, and family law matters.

Over a long career, a judge will preside over hundreds of trials and make hundreds of decisions impacting the lives of Canadians from all walks of life. I get one chance to appoint that judge, and so I want to get that right. I need to conduct due-diligence to ensure I name only the most meritorious candidates to the bench.

When I became minister I committed to creating a better judicial appointment process — one that would be open, transparent and ensured that the best possible candidates became judges. I also wanted a judiciary that more accurately reflected the country it served.

That process is in place now and is effective. Since I became minister I have made 212 appointments, including 168 under the new process. From March to December last year, I made 100 appointments, the most by any minister in more than two decades. And I am happy to say that the pace of appointments this year is just as brisk. The system is working.

Some, including senior members of the judiciary, have argued that the long-standing problem of court delays would be solved if I filled all vacancies at the same time. They say too much due-diligence is getting in the way of faster appointments. That assertion demands a response.

When an individual applies to be a judge, the application is reviewed by one of 17 Judicial Advisory Committees (JAC) across Canada. As part of our new process, I reconstituted these JACs to better reflect Canadian society. These committees meet regularly to consider applications and work incredibly hard. I am grateful for the many hours these volunteers devote to quiet but critically important public service. At the end of their review process, they send me a list of highly recommended, recommended and not recommended candidates.

The JACs’ work is critical, but there is much more to an appointment than a recommendation. The JAC tells me whether someone is qualified to be a judge. My responsibility is to take that information and then determine whether or not this candidate is the best candidate for the vacancy.

To do that, my office and I will go far beyond the list of references provided as part of a candidate’s application, to get a clearer picture of the candidate. We do a deep dive into the candidate’s work, what they have written or argued, and confirm their qualifications. We do extensive background checks.

But there is more to consider. What legal expertise does the court need? Does it need family law experts? Or criminal law experts? A bilingual judge in an area with a large Francophone population? I work with the chief justices across Canada to ensure their needs are met. Sometimes, meeting those specific needs takes more time.

Woven through all of this is the need for a bench that more accurately reflects the country it serves. Diversity matters. Among the judges I have appointed or promoted to new roles, more than half are women, eight are Indigenous, 18 are members of visible minority communities, 12 identify as LGBTQ2, and three identify as people with disabilities.

I know the pressures faced by our justice system because of the Supreme Court’s Jordan decision. Our government is doing its part. We have increased the judicial complement 35 judges across Canada (and by 10 in Ontario), we have advanced law reforms such as Bill C-75 to address court delays. We are working closely with the provinces and territories. As the Supreme Court noted in Jordan, the “culture of delay” is something to be addressed by all actors in the system. Appointing judges is one part.

I am proud of the process I have implemented, and I am incredibly proud of the appointments I have made. Judges play a critical role in the health of our democracy, whether or not we agree with the decisions they make.

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2018/09/17/judicial-appointments-a-process-that-cant-be-rushed.html

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