Author:Butt, David

Justice Robin Camp is now facing discipline from the Canadian Judicial Council for sexist remarks he made during a sexual assault trial in Alberta. But this high-profile case also raises a much broader issue: How should our outdated judicial discipline system be realigned to fit contemporary values and expectations?

We should start by recognizing that judges are professionals providing important public services, no less nor more important than teachers, doctors, police officers, nurses, etc. We should therefore look to best practices in those fields of professional discipline, adapting what works well into the judicial context.

Professional discipline exists to address misconduct, but also to restore and maintain public trust in the profession. Nobody trusts a process that works under cover of darkness. Therefore, judicial discipline must be publicly accessible from beginning to end--unlike the secretive review now under way over another disturbingly ill-informed sexual-assault acquittal, this time by Alberta judge Justice Michael Savaryn.

Canadian judges have a stellar history of ensuring Canadian courtrooms are as open as possible, no matter how difficult that may be for all the litigants and witnesses. That commitment to open justice must be equally strong when the white-hot critical spotlight turns back on the judge. Furthermore, openness is more than just allowing spectators. It must also include meaningful participation by those affected.

Other professional disciplines recognize they cannot monopolize the process of judging their peers. Perceptions of clubbiness, and odours of favouritism, real or imagined, quickly become overwhelming when only teachers judge teachers, only nurses judge nurses, and so on. Judicial discipline should benefit from a healthy injection of participation from decision makers who are not judges. Well chosen members of the public, or law professors for example, could make excellent participants, along with judges, on judicial discipline panels.

Judges often make final decisions in nasty disputes, so it's not surprising that judicial complaint in-boxes are routinely stuffed with meritless accusations from...

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