LEGAL PROS TO FEDS: DO JUSTICE, HIRE MORE JUDGES
Toronto senior judge, lawyers frustrated over Superior Court vacancies some fear will see more charges tossed In an unusual public rebuke, a senior Toronto judge last week vented his frustration in court over the federal government’s slow pace at filling judicial vacancies.
There are currently seven empty spots on the Superior Court bench in this city, a number that has critics concerned more criminal cases may be tossed due to delay.
Last Monday, Justice John Mcmahon was hearing updates on a number of criminal cases, including homicides, that are moving through the system toward trial, when he ordered that one of them be sent to another courtroom.
“We’re going to put the matter over before Justice Macdonnell, once they can find a courtroom for him which they’ll have no problem doing because we’re down six judges the federal government hasn’t appointed,” Mcmahon said, according to a court recording obtained by the Star.
His comment represents the latest complaint from the judiciary over the long-standing vacancies.
Although Mcmahon pointed to six vacancies, the current number is seven, according to
the court. That tally takes into account recent vacancies and an appointment to Toronto made Friday by federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-raybould.
That’s almost half of the total number of vacancies — 16 — at the Superior Court-level provincewide. The court has 236 fulltime and 103 part-time judges and hears all civil cases and the most serious criminal matters including murder.
“Filling judicial vacancies is an easy and immediate solution to the delay problems plaguing the Toronto criminal courts,” said Daniel Brown, vice-president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association. “There is no shortage of suitable judicial applicants. More must be done to address this long-standing problem before the public completely loses confidence in the justice system.”
Mcmahon has sounded the alarm before on the judge shortage. Justice Minister Jody Wilson-raybould says judges are hired for merit and diversity.
In March, he complained that no judge was available to hear a $13-million fraud case involving five men until January 2019, nearly five years after their arrest. “It is frustrating, but we can only deal with what we have,” he said.
The case was tossed just months later, when a different judge, Bonnie Croll, found the men’s constitutional right to a trial within a reasonable time had been violated. Croll also lamented in her ruling the lack of judges, saying it is “axiomatic” that courts have the proper number of jurists in order to ensure timely trials.
The delays in filling vacancies have caused tension between the court and the federal government. The dispute hit a crescendo in September when Superior Court Chief Justice Heather Smith called out the rising number
of vacancies in her speech at the opening of the courts ceremony in Toronto, and just days later Wilson-raybould defended her approach to appointing judges in an op-ed to the Star.
“There is no rationale for this delay in filling vacancies, since a minimum six-months’ notice is provided to the minister of justice of upcoming vacancies,” Smith said in her speech on Sept. 13, before addressing federal lawyer Sean Gaudet, who was representing Wilson-raybould at the ceremony.
“Mr. Gaudet, I have written to the minister of justice about this issue, urging that a new system be established for filling judicial vacancies immediately and seamlessly as they arise. I ask that you please, again, pass on this message. An improved process is necessary to keep our court’s complement at full-strength so