Should Canadian judges be active on social media? How can they get involved in the community?
These are some of the issues that are being addressed by the Canadian Judicial Council’s consultations to modernize the ethics guidelines for judges.
The council undertakes a first 20-year review of its “Principles of Judicial Conduct” by initiating consultations to measure public opinion on the acceptable behavior of federally appointed judges.
“As society evolves, the ethical issues sometimes faced by judges also change,” said Richard Wagner, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who is also the chair of the Judicial Council.
The main fundamentals of a judge’s work, such as integrity, independence and impartiality, are not debated. The review will focus on six themes: social media, self-advocacy, public relations, development and training, retirement and case management, settlement conferences and forensic mediations .
“However, the work of the judges has changed. The company has evolved. We are faced with new ethical issues, reads the working paper published by the Canadian Judicial Council. In the face of this changing environment, the Council is reviewing the current Principles of Judicial Conduct to ensure that they continue to guide judges in light of changing public expectations. ”
The population is solicited by means of a survey. Respondents are encouraged to agree or disagree with certain statements such as “judges should not define themselves as members of the judiciary on social media” or “Judges should not use social media to love, be friends or share cases that could be brought to court or to provoke negative debates [of a political or other nature] or to be controversial “.
The Council also seeks to know to what extent judges should be socially excluded. Is it right or even desirable to require the judiciary to be isolated and removed from all active social commitments?
“Of course, judges have a private life and they must be able to enjoy, as much as possible, the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens,” says the current ethics guide. In addition, judges cut off from reality will be less likely to be effective. ”
The current document makes it clear that its purpose is to provide ethical guidance. “They are not a code or list of prohibited behaviors and they should not be used as such. They do not set standards defining judicial misconduct. ”
However, failure to comply with these standards may result in disciplinary action under the Judges Act and may even result in expulsion. In November, for example, the council struck a highly respected judge of the Ontario Superior Court for accepting a position of temporary dean at an Aboriginal law school – the kind of dilemma that the revised guide should help solve. The case, still before the courts, provoked sharp criticism on the judicial council itself.