August 12, 2002
Response To Poll:By Janice Tibbetts
Chief Justice says low ranking understandable
The Chief Justice of Canada says it is understandable that judges rank lower than police officers in the publis's esteem, since judges sometimes have to make unpopular decisions.
Justice Beverley McLachlin was reacting to an national survey that showed many Canadians rate judges as the least effective members of the legal system when compared with prosecutors, defence lawyers and the police.
"One of the things that may be reflected in polls like that is that judges have to make tough decisions and their decisions can't please everybody," Judge McLachlin said yesterday at the annual meeting of the Canadian Bar Association.
"Unlike police officers, for example, judges have to make a decision on a particular point that can be very controversial, and if a particular member of the public thakes the other view on that, that person may say, 'I'm not so sure about those judges.'"
Asked to rate the judicary, 50% of the people in an Ipsos-Reid poll said judges were doing a good job, while 48% said they were doing an average or poor job.
In comparison, police officers were given a top rating - 67% said they were doing a good job and 32% reported their performance was average or poor.
Lawyers in court, both those prosecuting and defending the accused, also received a higher rating than judges.
However, the survey revealed some inaccurate perceptions about prosecutors' role in court. Almost half of those polled, for instance, thought prosecutors represented the accused, when in fact they were working for the state.
Judge McLachlin said she is not alarmed about the survey's findings becuase there have also been polls reporting that judges are doing a good job.
"There was one just a couple of months ago that suggested the Canadian public places enormous confidence in the judicary and indeed suggested that most Canadians would rather have judges than politicians decide some of the issues," she said.
"Not that I endorse that. I believe the political process has a primary role to play in resolving social issues."
Judge McLachlin siad she still believes Canada has one of the best judiciaries in the world.
"We know that because many people from other countries are coming here to study our judicary and are constantly asking us for help," she said.
A separate Ipsos-Reid survey cound 63% of Canadians believed sentences for criminals are not severe enough while only two percent say they go too far. Meanwhile, 31% say they are about right.
The poll showed that 42% of Canadians disagree with a conditional sentece for a drinking and driving offence where a passanger is seriously injured, with only 31% agreeing and 26% neutral.
But 46% agree with a two-year-less-a-day jail term for the same offence, and only 29% disagree.
When it came to a case of a woman being convicted of manslaughter for shooting and killing her husband, 46% disagreed with a conditional sentence involving house arrest and 200 hours of community work.
A plurality of Canadians - 39% - were more comfortable with two-years- less-a-day jail term for the offense.
Each of the two Ipsos-Reid polls, performed country-wide earlier this year, involved 1,000 telephone interviews with adult Canadians.
The margin of error for both polls was 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
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