The Ontario Court of Appeal has formally reprimanded a trial judge for repeatedly failing to give reasons for her decisions in a timely manner. The reprimand came after an appeal for a new trial in a domestic violence case filed in 2014. The judge acquitted the defendant, stating from the bench that she had been left with reasonable doubt as to his guilt. But the judge never provided written reasons for her decision–as was required–even after being asked repeatedly for them as late as September 2016. Citing several previous violations of the same judicial responsibility, the Court of Appeals concluded that “[t]he trial judge’s failure to give reasons, despite her repeated promises to do so, has frustrated the proper administration of justice.”
Whereas juries need not provide any justification for their decisions, it is part and parcel of the judicial role. The legitimacy of a judicial decision rests less on its ultimate accuracy and more on its ability to state principled reasons for the result in a clear and comprehensible way.
From the story:
The Canadian Judicial Council is pushing back against the idea of having sexual assault survivors and support organizations help develop training for aspiring and sitting judges, fearing it could interfere with the independence of those on the bench.
The requirement was a recent change to proposed legislation introduced by Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose, whose Bill C-337 calls for would-be federally appointed judges to first undergo comprehensive training in sexual assault law.
Once enacted, the legislation would also require the council to report on continuing education courses on sexual assault law, including telling the government how many sexual assault cases were heard each year by judges who lack the training.
The Canadian Judicial Council issued a statement Tuesday saying it still believes the bill, which was sent to the Senate with all-party support Monday, goes too far.
“While the council has been clear from the beginning that it finds the objectives of the bill laudable, we continue to have some concerns about the constitutionality of some aspects of the proposed law which may infringe on judicial independence,” spokeswoman Johanna Laporte wrote in an email.
“Specifically, reporting the number of sexual assault cases heard by judges who have never participated in seminars and opening the door for special interest groups dictating the kinds of education judges should adopt.”
I’m curious what readers of this blog think. Similar issues arise in other contexts, such as the placement of allegedly defense-oriented or plaintiff-oriented attorneys on rules committees. Courts want to strike the proper balance between informing judges and indoctrinating them, but sometimes that general principle is hard to put into practice.
Many workplaces have written and unwritten rules — dress codes, face time requirements, and informal norms about appropriate behavior. Courthouses are no different, and the most fundamental rule for judges is to always maintain the appearance of impartiality.
These rules are so well-engrained that it remains surprising when they are flaunted — as was the case last November when a judge in Ontario appeared on the bench wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. Judge Bernd Zabel, a Canadian citizen and Donald Trump supporter, claimed that he was simply joking with his colleagues, who were predominantly supporters of Hillary Clinton.
Continue reading “The judicial workplace”