by Clare L. Pieuk
Let me begin by asserting that Canada has a strong and healthy justice system. Indeed, our courts and justice system are looked to by many countries as exemplary. We have well-appointed courtrooms, presided over by highly qualified judges. Our judges are independent and deliver impartial justice, free of fear and favour. The Canadian Judicial Council, which I head, recently issued an information note on the judicial appointments process in which it affirmed these long-standing principles on which our justice system is based. Canadians can have confidence that judges are committed to rendering judgment in accordance with the law and based on the evidence. Corruption and partisanship are non-issues. In all these things, we are fortunate indeed.
Remarks of the Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, P.C. Presented at the Empire Club of Canada Toronto, March 8, 2007 (The Challenge We Face).
Good Day Readers:
Since that statement was made there’s the Douglas Inquiry and the shocking allegations concerning the conduct of British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Mary Marvyn Koenigsberg (federally appointed) in Simpson versus Mair & WIC the subject of a series of videos on www.DriveForJustice.com. There is also the case of a third federally appointed Justice CyberSmokeBlog is unable to discuss.
… We have well-appointed courtrooms …
Don’t think so! What good are they if the public is unable to hear Justices, counsel and witnesses half the time? Such is the case in Manitoba Queen’s Bench and the Federal Court of Canada in Winnipeg.
During the Douglas Inquiry on more than one occasion the audio system broke down leaving lawyers scrambling to try to fix it. At times it functioned like that one would expect to find in a third world country. Was any thought given to having an audio expert available in the event of such a contingency? Of course not! Witnesses and even counsel had to be constantly reminded by Chair Alberta Chief Justice Catherine Fraser to speak louder or sit/stand closer to their desk microphones because lapel microphones where not being used.
A veteran Toronto reporter at the Douglas Inquiry who has covered many, many Federal Court proceedings there noted it was deja vu all over again.
It has been said when you send a letter to the Supreme Court of Canada it disappears into a big, black hole never to be seen or heard from again.
That has been CSB’s experence on three previous occasions the most recent of which is reprinted below.
An open letter to Chief Justice McLachlin
Sunday, August 12, 2012
The Right Honourable Chief Justice of Canada
Beverley McLachlin, P.C.
Supreme Court of Canada
301 Wellington Street
Dear Chief Justice McLachlin:
The assumption is made you were accurately quoted.
We would like to offer our views regarding The Globe and Mail article based on The Manitoba Law Courts where our experience lies. There is no reason to believe it is any better or worse here than in other jurisdictions throughout Canada. In fact, it’s likely a poster child or microcosm of what ails courts across the country.
1.0 Barriers To Legal System Must Be Lowered If Public Confidence Is To Be Maintained
Barriers to entry can take many forms. Why cannot standard legal documents such as Statements of Claim/Defence, Affidavits, Motions, Motion Briefs, to name but a few, not be registered, filed and expensed online? Is the technology not already in place? What economic impact does this have on litigants who are in a different Canadian jurisdiction much less outside the country?
Why are Daily Dockets not displayed electronically?
2.0 Not Enough Judges, Lawyers Are Expensive
If there are not enough judges whose fault? Surely, in any jurisdiction there must be qualified candidates lined up to share in the salary, pension, benefits and other perquisites of a judicial appointment.
In the past, you are on the public record as urging the legal profession to undertake more pro bono work as one way to increase public availability to the courts. Is there not another. Many litigants are well-educated. How many lawyers are prepared to allow them to draft as many of the legal documents required as possible, of course, subject to their final approval?
3.0 Action Committee On Access To Justice In Civil And Family Matters
Our preliminary research based on discussions with litigants here, as well as reading about problems with Family Court in the United States, Australia and just about anywhere else one chooses to turn, is they’re in a mess. In short, a major re-think of the current business model is required .
We have not examined closely the aforementioned Committee but does it at least have some layperson direct involvement/input or, as so often happens, it is the legal system examining and passing judgment on itself in the absence of any citizen/taxpayer oversight? For example, what provision exists for men/women who have been through a divorce or child custody case to outline their experiences firsthand?
4.0 No One Will Solve This Alone
The “silver bullet” referenced in your comments could well turn out to be those citizens and taxpayers who must suffer through the inefficiencies a system that is in dire need of re-shaping. Who better to ask than the users who, in the end, are obliged to pay the cost.
5.0 Courts Have To Be Adequately Staffed
As previously noted, that is but half the equation the other being technology. The Supreme Court of the State of Indiana is about to embark on a year long pilot project that would see automated cameras and recording equipment replace the traditional court clerk in several courtrooms. Any jurisdiction anywhere in Canada experimenting with anything evenly remotely similar? Probably not.
6.0 Appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada
In the case of RCMP Officer Monty Robinson, it should be noted a petition to the Supreme Court of Canada is no guarantee of a Hearing. It decides not you.
Finally, Chief Justice McLachlin if there is one change you could make that would be everlasting it would be to do what you can to improve the audio in courtrooms. Time and time and time and … again we have attended Queen’s Bench and Provincial Court Hearings where it is impossible, even sitting in the front row, to often hear Justices/Judges, much less lawyers and witnesses.
We were reminded yet again at the recent Douglas Inquiry where the Committee had to constantly remind Counsel and witnesses to speak louder – that is, when the audio equipment was not malfunctioning which, to date, has occurred several times. And how many millions of dollars will it cost before it has concluded?
Canadians like to pride themselves on having an open court system but is it really if the public gallery cannot hear half the time? If you can bring about the use of lapel microphones by Justices/Judges, lawyers and witnesses, you will have solved a seemingly simple but to date impossible problem.
And for that you will get our vote as the greatest Chief Justice in the annals of the Canadian judiciary.
Clare L. Pieuk
Media Citizen Journalist