Daily Gleaner

Friday, April 13, 1998

System worked as it should in handling of complaint against judge

letter from J.E. Lockyer, Minister of Justice for New Brunswick
Daily Gleaner, Fredericton, New Brunswick

Dear Editor:

Recently we have witnessed public comments made by individuals acting as representatives of the New Brunswick Shared Parenting Association regarding decisions made by Justice Athey in the course of her duties as a judge of the Family Division of the Court of Queen's Bench of N.B.

First let me state that it is not my role as minister of justice and attorney general to comment on the validity of any criticism brought against a member of the judiciary. It is the responsibility and function of the Judicial Council to consider and make decisions regarding complaints made against judges.

As Minister of Justice, it is however, my responsibility to ensure the proper administration of justice in the Province of New Brunswick. It is in this function that I wish to clarify the importance of the concept of judicial independence, one of the cornerstones of our democratic society.

As well as being responsible for the resolution of disputes, judges are the guardians of our constitutional rights and freedoms. Judges are responsible and accountable for interpreting the laws of the state. As such, a member of the judiciary must be able to express his or her points of view when resolving disputes brought before the court. This must be done impartially and independently.

For a judge to be impartial, he or she must be objective in relation to the persons and the issues of a particular case. For a judge to be independent, he or she must be free from outside interference or pressures which could unduly and improperly influence the decision. The concept of judicial independence is there not to protect judges, but to serve the public interest by ensuring that those persons before the courts obtain fair and impartial judgements.

Canada has one of the finest judicial systems in the world. In protecting our rights, in ensuring that we meet our responsibilities, and in resolving those issues which we cannot agree upon ourselves, we must give our judges not only the power to make decisions, but the freedom to carry out that function without the fear of personal criticism or public attack.

I firmly believe that we have talented and competent judges in New Brunswick at all levels of our court system. When a member of the public is dissatisfied with the conduct of a member of the judiciary, a mechanism is in place to deal with the complaint. The Judicial Council has been established and exists for this specific purpose. The role of the Council is to receive any complaints from members of the public, consider the complaint and determine if it is valid. Members of the council also have the power to dismiss a complaint, issue a reprimand or recommend removal form the bench. My understanding is that the Canadian Judicial Council, after having heard a September 1997 complaint from the Association, dismissed it saying that Madam Justice Athey's comments, when taken in the context of the hearing, were not inappropriate. The council determined that she was not biased, nor was her decision made on the basis of a predetermined opinion.

The public, therefore, is protected from judicial misconduct while ensuring the judiciary has the freedom to judge. This is the appropriate manner in which complaints against the judiciary are properly and responsibly addressed to ensure fairness, impartiality and independence, both for the public and our judges. I feel that these principles were respected in this matter.

J.E. Lockyer
Minister of Justice for New Brunswick
Fredericton

copyright 1998 The Daily Gleaner