In an unprecedented move that reflects a climate of judicial concern over the BC Justice Reform initiative, the three Chief Justices of BC’s courts issued a five page statement on judicial independence today. The statement was issued by Chief Justice of BC Lance Finch, Chief Justice Robert Bauman of the Supreme Court of BC and Chief Judge Thomas Crabtree of the Provincial Court of BC. The statement is entitled “Judicial Independence (And What Everyone Should Know About It).” In a previous post, I reviewed the BC Government’s launch of the Justice Reform Initiative which includes a Green Paper on Modernizing BC’s Justice System, an internal audit of legal aid, and the launch of a new website on court information and statistics.
At the time of the launch of the government reform initiative in Februrary, the three chief justices responded by issuing the following 2 paragraph statement:
We always welcome the opportunity to engage in dialogue with Government and other justice system participants on the issues and challenges facing the justice system. A fully functioning justice system is an essential element of a free and democratic society governed by the rule of law. Any suggestions for improvements to that system merit serious consideration.
Such a review, however, must recognize that the various participants in the justice system operate within a constitutional framework. That framework places certain responsibilities on the participants and is founded on an independent judiciary. Any recommendations for reform must respect the constitutional framework in which we operate.
That statement told me that the judges were likely caught somewhat by surprise by the announcement or by the contents of the Green Paper, specifically its identification of judicial independence as a challenge to reform.
The statement issued today goes much further. It is a fabulous primer on judicial independence. However, the fact that the chief justices of the three courts felt compelled to issue such a statement demonstrates the uncertainty and concern surrounding the justice reform initiative that prevails among members of the judiciary in BC. The Chief Justices joint statement ends with the following invokation:
The judiciary is always open to discussing ways to improve the administration of justice. Indeed, all levels of court have engaged in extensive discussions with government officials over the past several years with a view to achieving that end. In being open to discussion, however, the judiciary will remain steadfast in protecting the essential elements of judicial independence, as the precursor and guardian of judicial impartiality.
The BC government will likely have to be more sensitive to concerns about judicial independence and engage the judiciary in more constructive dialogue if its reforms are to be successful.