Ontario moves to change judicial appointments in effort to boost access to justice

TORONTO – The Ontario government passed legislation Tuesday to cement changes in the appointment of provincial judges. This is part of several reforms aimed at improving access to justice.

The changes in the process of appointing judicial officers sparked controversy when they were first unveiled last year. However, the government announced Tuesday that it had made adjustments to reflect feedback from judicial officials.

Attorney General Doug Downey said faster filling of jobs through the system will help clear the growing backlog in the courts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“That’s exactly why I’m doing this now. I want to make sure that we have all the resources available to tackle the challenges we have regarding the backlog. And that’s why we can hardly wait, ”he said on Tuesday.

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Last year, the government proposed increasing the number of candidates recommended to fill vacancies on the provincial bank from at least two to at least six and requiring the selection committee to provide the attorney general with a list of all candidates who are considered eligible.

The move has been criticized by some members of the legal community, who said the province was trying to make partisan appointments an independent process.

The proposed changes had not yet been submitted to the legislature. However, the province said changes to the selection of justices of the peace – including a significant reduction in the number of members on the advisory nomination committee – were passed late last year.

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If the legislation introduced on Tuesday is passed, the attorney general will be able to display the names of the six or more recommended candidates, but not the full list of candidates considered eligible.

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The recommended applicants form a pool that can be considered for vacancies within a year without an applicant having to reapply. The government has announced that this will speed up the appointment process in a way that does not undermine independence or transparency.

Downey will still be able to decline the committee recommended candidates and request another list of at least six candidates.

He said Tuesday the newly proposed system should alleviate concerns about possible bias.

“I don’t know who is applying, there is no line of sight for that. So if I turned the list over and asked for another list, I don’t know who’s next, ”he said.

Downey said there are currently about six provincial judge vacancies handling some criminal cases, traffic maps, and provincial offenses. The judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the federal government.

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The bill, introduced on Tuesday, also includes a number of other changes that the province said will improve access to justice.

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In response to the pandemic, Ontario temporarily allowed wills and powers of attorney to be witnessed in a virtual manner – a change that is now being proposed to be made permanent.

“These changes would remove the restrictions imposed by traveling to personally access these services via COVID-19 and beyond,” the government said.

The government also endeavors to ensure that documents are filed in French in all court buildings in the province on all matters including civil and family law.

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Another change would combine the province’s five regional courts – the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, the Environmental Review Tribunal, the Board of Negotiation, the Conservation Review Board, and the Mining and Lands Tribunal – into a single tribunal.

The government said creating a single avenue to resolve these disputes would “remove unnecessary duplication between cases” and make the overall process more efficient.

The bill also includes changes to court fees for parents applying for guardianship of their children’s property and supervisors for accountants, as well as allowing the child attorney’s office to report on specific issues.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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