Supreme Court chief justice ‘enormously preoccupied’ by entry to justice issues

Chief Justice Richard Wagner mentioned that on any given yr, between 25% to 30% of Supreme Court of Canada attraction candidates are self-represented

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OTTAWA – Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Wagner says he’s nonetheless “enormously preoccupied” by entry to justice points that power 100 to 200 Canadians yearly to be self-represented when making use of to be heard by Canada’s prime courtroom.

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Speaking to a gaggle of scholars and alumni of his Montreal highschool alma mater Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf Wednesday afternoon, Wagner strongly reiterated a degree that he’s made quite a few instances since his appointment as chief justice: the nation’s judicial system stays far too inaccessible to many Canadians.

But he went additional than normal for example the difficulty, noting that on any given yr, between 25 per cent and 30 per cent of the 400 to 600 years functions for go away to attraction to the Supreme Court come from people who usually are not represented by legal professionals.

“There is now better access to justice, but it remains an urgent issue,” Wagner instructed the viewers. He mentioned the variety of unrepresented functions to the Supreme Court “shows there is a problem” of which he’s “enormously preoccupied.”

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He lamented that for years governments in any respect ranges severely underfunded the justice system, that means that in the present day many individuals who can’t afford to pay for a lawyer are nonetheless thought-about “too rich” to qualify for authorized support.

We have a really, very severe system and there’s no political partisanship

During the dialogue, Wagner additionally warned that the “deplorable” politicization of the United States Supreme Court might additionally occur in Canada if Canadians and governments aren’t cautious.

“With regards to the (U.S.) Supreme Court, I think its deplorable,” he mentioned in response to a query from moderator and La Presse columnist Yves Boisvert about partisanship on the U.S. prime courtroom and the nomination technique of the most recent American supreme courtroom nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson.

“I don’t want us to talk about the Supreme Court like they do in the United States. We have a very, very serious system and there is no political partisanship,” he added.

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Experts and U.S. politicians of all stripes have raised issues in regards to the “increasingly partisan” nature of American Supreme Court affirmation hearings, with some, resembling Republican Senator Susan Collins, saying the “process is broken.”

Wagner mentioned Wednesday he hopes Canada’s nomination course of by no means will get near what the U.S. one seems like presently.

“I hope we will never get to that point, but we have to think about it anyways because what seemed impossible a few years ago, well the last years have demonstrated that it is possible, even within a democracy,” he mentioned, pointing to the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol in addition to the election of Donald Trump (which he known as “an individual,” with out naming him).

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Part of the instruments to combat towards an Americanization of Canada’s judicial nomination course of and prime courtroom is bettering Canadians’ entry and understanding of the judicial system, Wagner insisted.

Since Wagner was nominated as chief justice in 2017, the Supreme Court held its first ever sitting outdoors of Ottawa (in Manitoba), started publishing plain-language summaries of rulings and started internet hosting digital hearings (as a result of COVID-19 pandemic).

“We want to communicate,” Wagner mentioned. “I’m looking for all the tools possible for citizens to have access and know the justice system. It’s hard to appreciate something you do not know.”

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“We want to make sure that people maintain their confidence in our justice system, so we don’t live what other citizens are going through outside of the country,” he added.

Wagner additionally shared a private story about how his path to changing into Canada’s prime decide truly went by means of the Gomery fee on the federal Sponsorship Scandal within the early 2000s.

Wagner instructed the viewers that when decide John Gomery was appointed as head of the general public inquiry into the federal authorities’s sponsorship program, his first selection for lead counsel was Wagner, then a lawyer specializing in felony circumstances at a prime Quebec agency.

Wagner mentioned he initially accepted Gomery’s supply by cellphone and agreed to fulfill him within the afternoon on the identical Friday. But he mentioned he shortly realized there was potential for a battle of curiosity as a result of a colleague represented a consumer who would doubtlessly be referred to as to testify in entrance of the fee.

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“I met the judge at 4:30 p.m. and told him, ‘Unfortunately, I have to decline because I have a conflict,’ ” Wagner recalled.

“No problem, you just have to quit your job at the firm and come with me to the commission. After that, we’ll figure out your career,” Gomery responded, Wagner mentioned because the viewers laughed.

After spending a “nightmare weekend” reflecting on the supply and his profession, Wagner mentioned he referred to as the decide and mentioned, “thanks, but no thanks.”

“But it made me think about how I was maybe due to change my career orientation, so I threw my name in the hat to become a Superior Court judge. And a few months later, I was nominated,” he mentioned.

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