How are new judges educated?

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One minute you’re a lawyer – the next, you’re appointed a judge. You begin a new, very challenging career in a whirlwind, as soon as you can leave your law practice. What kind of orientation and training do you get to prepare for your new responsibilities?

Newly appointed B.C. Provincial Court judges are provided with education opportunities in three phases – beginning with informal orientation and mentoring, and followed by two week-long education programs, one on law and the other on judicial skills.

Before taking their oath of office, new judges meet with the Chief Judge and are given information and directions on the guidelines for their new jobs. They are fitted for their robes, which they will wear every day they are in court for the rest of their careers. They begin educating themselves by reading articles on judicial ethics and the law they will need to apply, much of which is available in the Court’s online library, and from the National Judicial Institute (NJI), an organization that provides educational resources and programs to all Canadian judges.

For their first two weeks, new judges attend court in various regions around the province. They observe experienced judges who act as mentors, and are gradually given courtroom assignments. Spending time in different courthouses and learning from different judges introduces them to a variety of practices and styles they can choose from and combine in their own work. After the two week orientation period, judges begin to work in the region to which they’ve been assigned. There, one of their fellow judges will serve as a mentor.

Each spring, judges appointed during the preceding 12 months attend a one-week New Judges’ Education Program organized by the Canadian Association of Provincial Court Judges (CAPCJ) for provincial, territorial and military judges from across the country. With a primary focus on criminal law and the Canadian Charter of Rights, the program offers judicial and academic speakers with national reputations and the opportunity to learn about practices and procedures in other parts of Canada.

Each fall, the recently appointed judges attend a judicial skills seminar presented by the NJI and CAPCJ. This past fall, ten B.C. judges travelled to Ontario for six days of skills training, including exercises in delivering oral judgments. Other topics included ethical issues, mediation skills in family and civil cases, and effective communication. The seminar was led by faculty from across the country, including Chief Judge Thomas J. Crabtree and Judge Donna Senniw of the B.C. Provincial Court.

Judge Lisa Wyatt reports that although the program occupied 8 hours a day of lectures and skills based exercises, B.C. judges had sufficient energy to explore the Niagara peninsula in the late afternoons and evening. She says, “It was a great experience for our B.C. judges to get to know their colleagues from across the country, and of course to get to know each other. The lecture rooms were full of enthusiasm for the new careers in which we find ourselves. The faculty shared in our enthusiasm, and it was clear from their presentations and comments that they, as seasoned judges, still find great satisfaction in their careers.”

Judging is complex work calling for a variety of skills and wide-ranging knowledge. Because we live and work in a rapidly changing world, judges must continue learning throughout their careers. After their first year, judges continue to learn from:

  • individual education plans developed with the assistance of NJI online resources
  • online education programs offered by the NJI (pioneered in the 1990’s by B.C. Provincial Court Judge Jean Lytwyn (retired))
  • twice yearly education programs presented by the Court (described in eNews 10/11/15 Judging: a lifelong journey of learning)
  • varied education programs offered by the NJI, CAPCJ, Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice, and many other organizations, utilizing the education leave program instituted by the Court
  • weekly reviews of the law as it evolves across the country

Canada’s Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin has said, “Continuing technological, cultural, environmental and economic changes have rendered the landscape of judging ever more complex. I firmly believe that to respond to the constancy of change, judges require a steady commitment to lifelong learning.” B.C. Provincial Court judges begin that commitment with the education they embrace enthusiastically in their first year.