Have you got an opinion on judges’ ethical obligations?

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Updated March 2023

The Canadian Judicial Council wants to hear it! The Canadian Judicial Council is a federal body with a mandate to improve the quality of judicial service in the superior courts of Canada. It is also responsible for reviewing complaints or allegations about federally appointed judges.

Created under the federal Judges Act, the Council is chaired by the Chief Justice of Canada, and its members are the chief justices and associate chief justices of Canada’s superior courts, the senior judges of the territorial courts, and the Chief Justice of the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada.

In 1998, the Council published Ethical Principles for Judges (‘Ethical Principles’), a resource providing guidance on judges’ ethical obligations for both judges and the public. It discusses five fundamental principles: integrity, independence, equality, diligence and impartiality, and explores their application to judges’ conduct both in and out of court.

On March 7, 2019 the Council announced it will review ‘Ethical Principles’. "While many principles remain fundamental, the conversation about the scope of ethical obligations continues. Judicial mediation, participation in community activities, case management, self-represented litigants, professional development are all areas that remain challenging. The use of the internet, particularly social media, is also an issue that raises new, important questions”, the Council said in a press release. “As society evolves, so do the ethical issues that judges sometimes face”, noted Chief Justice Richard Wagner, Council’s Chairperson.”

The Council is inviting all Canadians to review a Background Paper, complete an on-line survey about the ethical obligations of judges, and send them any other relevant comments or submissions. Your input will help to ensure that revised ‘Ethical Principles’ reflect public expectations about judges.

How does this affect the Provincial Court of BC?
The Provincial Court is not a superior court and it is not directly involved in this review. The Provincial Court of BC has its own Judicial Council, responsible for improving the quality of services provided by the Court’s judicial officers and developing a code of ethics. However, the Canadian Association of Provincial Court Judges was consulted during the development of ‘Ethical Principles’ in the 1990s, and the Judicial Council of British Columbia adopted ‘Ethical Principles’ as guidelines for the Court’s judges and judicial justices. Thus, we look forward to this review process and to the discussion of evolving ethical issues it will promote.

Note: BC’s superior courts are the BC Supreme Court and Court of Appeal. The term ‘superior’ reflects the facts that:

  • provincial Court decisions may be appealed to one or both of these courts, depending on the type of case; and
  • while both the Provincial Court and Supreme Court of BC are trial courts, the Supreme Court has ‘inherent jurisdiction’, meaning it can deal with any matters not assigned by law to another court or tribunal. The Provincial Court is a statutory court, meaning its judges can only deal with matters assigned to them by a statute.

Note: On December 16, 2022, to assist judges and judicial justices with difficult ethical and professional issues and to assist members of the public to better understand the judicial role, the BC Judicial Council adopted the Ethical Principles for Judges published by the Canadian Judicial Council in 2021, except for its commentary on “Post-Judicial Careers” in s. 5.E.2 restricting the types of activities a judge can engage in upon leaving the judicial office and returning to the legal profession.