The image of a black-robed judge dispensing justice wisely and impartially has traditionally been a part of the national perception. Then, last week the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) issued a report that severely challenges that view. The $90,000 study, a product of CBA interviews with politicians, judges and lawyers across the country, concluded that the criteria used for appointing judges are overly political. The hard-hitting report went on to declare, “In most provinces politics plays too important a part in selecting candidates for the bench—in some provinces to the point of abusing the concept of partisanship.”
An eight-member CBA committee began the study in April, 1984, shortly before thenprime minister Pierre Trudeau announced the appointments of cabinet minister Mark MacGuigan and government House Leader Yvon Pinard to the Federal Court of Canada. Although there was widespread criticism of the appointments as patronage, MacGuigan was swiftly cleared by the CBA’s national committee on the judiciary—which since 1967 has screened all the federal government’s judicial candidates. But Pinard was appointed without CBA consultation. Declared the report: “There is cynicism concerning the appointment of judges, and this cynicism must be allayed if
confidence in the legal system is to be maintained.”
To that end, the report recommends that nominations should come from a wide variety of sources. As well, it said, federal and provincial advisory committees, including chief justices, government representatives, lawyers and lay people, should be established in all provinces. Those bodies already exist in British Columbia, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, but the report recommends improvements in all but British Columbia and Ontario. Said committee chairman and former CBA president Neil McKeivey: “The idea is to make selection as impartial as possible to seek out the best person, which we don’t think the present system does.” Last week Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said that he may review u the process now used for selecting the country’s 1,500 judges. And Justice Minister John Crosbie acknowledged that the current system could be improved, although he added that the Conservative government’s 40-odd judicial appointments to date have all been “good, competent people.” Still, McKeivey declared, “ there has been a preponderance of party supporters appointed to the bench by the present government, as there was previously.”
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