Federally appointed courts grow restive as Ottawa slow to fill vacancies

Judicial Diversity 2016 - DRAFT.001Good piece by Sean Fine of the Globe on the questions around new processes of judicial appointments.

I am currently in the process of analyzing the diversity of current federally and provincially appointed judges (preliminary federal court numbers in above chart) and hope that as part of the process review, the Government will commit to diversity statistics for visible minorities and Indigenous Canadians (some provinces already do this with respect to provincial court judges):

Ms. Wilson-Raybould would not commit to a starting date for appointments when she spoke to the judicial council, said an Alberta lawyer with knowledge of the meeting. “The government is considering the full scope of the appointments process, including the composition and operations of the Judicial Advisory Committees,” a spokeswoman for the minister said in an e-mail to The Globe.

“Any potential changes will be examined in light of the government’s objectives to achieve transparency, accountability and diversity in the appointments process and they will be carefully considering how best to achieve this goal, taking into account views of key stakeholders and interested Canadians in this regard.”

The appointments process is not up and running yet. And Ms. Wilson-Raybould has made little progress toward putting a new process in place – having not even begun consultations with the legal community and leaving a critical position unfilled.

At the system’s foundation are 17 judicial advisory committees – eight-member groups that screen candidates for federally appointed courts such as provincial appeal and superior courts, the Federal Court and the Tax Court. Several of these committees have no members at all – two of Ontario’s three committees, both of Quebec’s, plus all four committees in Atlantic Canada.

The Alberta committee, however, has all eight of its members, and met as recently as mid-March to recommend candidates for the bench, Chief Justice Wittmann said.

“Nobody is against reform if it betters the system,” he said, “but you can’t change locomotives and stop the train; the train’s got to keep running while you’re doing it.”

Criminal and civil trials that need more than five days are being scheduled for “well into 2017,” Chief Justice Wittmann said. “If the public through their elected representatives say that’s fine, well, I guess it’s fine. But there seems to be an expectation that it’s not fine.”

For the court’s judges, “it increases their stress and their sense of helplessness, because they can’t handle everything they’re asked to do. The public thinks they’re not getting the access they’ve come to expect. We cannot sacrifice quality to increase the quantity of cases that we process. It just can’t work that way.”

Ms. Wilson-Raybould has yet to discuss the system’s pressing questions with the legal community: what to do about the changes to the process that the former Conservative government put in place, whether to commit to gender parity in judicial appointments, and whether to begin tracking the numbers of visible minority and aboriginal applicants.

Source: Federally appointed courts grow restive as Ottawa slow to fill vacancies – The Globe and Mail

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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