The conflict between the Minister of Justice and the Chief Justice is neither in the interests of justice nor in the interests of the public. Their latest saga is truly weakening our justice system and could compromise thousands of lawsuits.
In particular, we must deplore the uneasiness created by the incapacity of the system in sexual assault cases. After encouraging victims to report, the system would no longer be able to process their case within a reasonable time. Or worse, the system would drop their file altogether, exceeding the time limits prescribed by the Jordan decision.
The problem of delays before the courts already existed. But it has just been exacerbated by a decision by the Chief Justice. Considering that the cases are more complex, she lightened the workload of all the judges to give them more time to study the files and write their judgment.
Every other day
Previously, judges sat two days out of three. Chief Judge Lucie Rondeau decided unilaterally to reduce this ratio to one day out of two. The difference is huge. In a working year of 200 working days, a judge sat in court for 133 days. It is now only 100. More than 4,000 court days have been lost in this way.
Behind the confrontation between the Chief Justice and the Minister, there is above all a confrontation between two principles. On the one hand, the independence of the judiciary and on the other, the responsibility of the government to offer us an efficient justice system at a reasonable cost on our taxes.
In fact, one could rephrase the question this way. The concept of independence is certainly a foundation of our society. But should we extend the application of judicial independence to the right of judges to decide unilaterally on their workload? To announce it to the minister and to society as a fact?
Purists will answer yes without hesitation. Personally, I’m a lot less convinced. The elected government must certainly never meddle in the decisions of the court. Nevertheless, he has a duty as an administrator towards the litigants and taxpayers that we are.
The Chief Justice’s solution to compensate for the lightening of the workload is too simple: the Minister of Justice only has to create new judges and appoint more. Ah! And with what money then?
Following his logic, the government would be forced to commit tens of millions of additional dollars…without even improving the system. Only to compensate for a reduction of tasks that he did not approve.
Speaking of money, the time may be appropriate to recall that the government has granted increases to the salaries of judges of the Court of Québec in this year of job reductions. Increases ranging from 22 to 50%!
A judge now earns $310,000, 50% more than the Prime Minister.
The Chief Justice seems to have forgotten that in the equation.