MONTREAL – Canadian courts must be more transparent in order to maintain public confidence in the justice system, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada said Thursday ahead of a rare hearing outside Ottawa.
Chief Justice Richard Wagner told The Canadian Press that it is now more important for the courts to release the information themselves, to counter the possibility that inaccurate information on social media could damage their credibility.
“I think you have to be transparent. I think judges, for example, should try to make decisions in clearly accessible language, to be transparent. It’s a way not only to increase, but also to sustain confidence in the justice system,” he said in an interview in Montreal.
Wagner is on a media tour ahead of two Supreme Court hearings next week in Quebec City, the second time in High Court history that she is hearing cases outside of Ottawa. The tribunal held hearings in Winnipeg in 2019.
The chief justice said the decision to hold hearings across Canada was part of a broader effort to make the nation’s highest court more open and accessible.
This push also includes the publication of decision summaries written in plain language, so that people can understand the essential elements of these decisions. Wagner said the court has also begun publishing an annual review of the court’s operations.
If people understand how the court works, Wagner said, they won’t worry that it’s too deferential to the government or that individual judges are beholden to the politicians who appointed them.
“People should keep their faith in their institutions,” he said. “Because if people lose faith in institutions like justice, well, for me, that’s like the start of anarchy, because people are going to settle their grievances on the streets.”
Canadians are lucky to have an independent judiciary, Wagner said, but that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Wagner said he feared the High Court was becoming politicized, like its counterpart in the United States.
“The United States is a very polarized country and it shows in its institutions. I hope we never get there, and I think we never will, because of the way our democracy has evolved over the last 100 years, but we have to work on it,” he said. he declared “The greatest danger would be to say that we are not like them, that our justice is independent, impartial, there are no worries.”
He said Canada needs to find ways to improve its justice system, which would include more funding.
He said federal and provincial governments have often neglected the justice system, prioritizing other areas such as education and health care.
“That means a lack of judges, a lack of courthouses, a lack of resources, technology (and) underpaid staff,” he said.
The Supreme Court ruling in Jordan in 2016 – which set time limits for trials – was the result of this lack of funding, he said, adding that he believed “the message was getting through” and that the governments had begun to invest more in the justice system.
Courts’ adoption of new technologies during the COVID-19 pandemic has improved access to justice and should be sustained, Wagner added.
“We shouldn’t go back to our old ways,” he said. “We should be using technology more and more, and the government should also be helping the courts to use technology.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 8, 2022.
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