[JURIST] Canada's highest-ranking judges have criticized the Conservative government's changes to the regional panels that screen candidates for federal judgeships [JURIST report] as a threat to judicial independence. The Canadian Judicial Council (CJC) [official website], made up of the chief justices and associate chief justices of Canada's superior courts, issued a statement [text] Tuesday saying that "judges can continue to participate in the deliberations of the Advisory Committees, but only if the principle of judicial independence is respected and judicial candidates are recommended strictly on the basis of merit." The provincially-based advisory committees [backgrounder], which work in secret, include seven voting members representing judges, lawyers and the public. Because four of those members - up from 1 in 1988 and 3 in 1994 - are now appointed by Canada's federal Justice Minister, the CJC statement said that:
the advisory committees may neither be, nor seen to be, fully independent of the government. This puts in peril the concept of an independent body that advises the government on who is best qualified to be a judge. Judicial independence is not the private right of judges but the foundation of judicial impartiality and a constitutional right of all Canadians.Last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper [official profile], during a House of Commons debate, said [transcript] that the latest changes to the nomination process were intended to "make sure our selection of judges is in correspondence with" the goals of reducing crime and making communities safer. The CJC statement noted that most cases handled by the superior courts do not involve criminal law, and many revolve around disputes between citizens and the government.
Defending his position, Harper told the Commons on Tuesday [transcript] that the government "intend[s] to move forward" with plans to name police representatives and crime victims to the judicial panels. Earlier this week, former Canadian chief justice Antonio Lamer [official profile] warned the prime minister [JURIST report] against influencing the judiciary to carry out his "law and order" legislative agenda. The Toronto Star has more.