The PLEA: Canada's Legal System: An Introduction

The PLEA: Canada's Legal System: An Introduction

The Role of Judges

One of the most important things about Canada’s justice system is that the judges are independent, impartial, and objective. Judges cannot be pressured into making particular decisions by the government, the police, or private citizens.

Nobody can pressure a judge into making a particular decision. To safeguard against corruption:

  • judges’ jobs are secure - they keep their jobs until they retire
  • judges cannot be threatened or fired if they make an unpopular decision
  • judges are paid well so they do not accept money from anyone to make a particular decision
  • courts are managed by judges - the government does not tell courts how to do their work.

Further, to ensure court cases are impartial and objective, sometimes a judge may be required to excuse her or himself from a case. This can happen for many reasons, including when:

  • the judge is related to one of the parties in the case
  • the judge is related to a lawyer in the case
  • the judge is a witness in the case
  • the judge has a personal or financial interest in the case

If judges have other reasons that may make it difficult for them to be objective or impartial, they will excuse themselves from a case. If a judge is excused, another judge will hear the case.

These rules ensure that judges are free to make good decisions based on the facts of the case and what the law says.

A judge’s decision must be accepted. However, in some cases the decision can be appealed to a higher court. Allowing a higher court to review cases is another way courts apply law fairly.

Consider: Objectivity

Judges take objectivity very seriously. Objectivity is the concept that decisions are based strictly on facts. Sometimes, things happen that put into question the judge’s ability to objectively decide a case.

For example, in 2010 a Quebec man was on trial for robbery. Lawyers at the trial noticed that the judge appeared to be struggling to stay awake. When asked, the judge admitted that she “lost attention.” The judge said she would review the court proceedings to ensure she did not miss anything.

The prosecutors were concerned that the judge could not objectively look at the facts because she may have slept through testimony important to the prosecution’s case. The defence lawyers did not share this concern. The judge agreed with the prosecutors, and she excused herself from the case.

  1. Everything said in a trial is written down in the court proceedings. The Quebec judge had the option to reread what was said. Even so, she chose to excuse herself from the case. What does this tell us about judges and objectivity?
  2. In Canada, judges are appointed. They keep their jobs until the age of 75. In some other countries judges are elected. Some people believe that elected judges will be more concerned about making “popular” decisions than correct decisions. Do you agree or disagree?

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