The Hamilton Spectator

We don’t need tough judges, we need independen­t judges

- DERMOT NOLAN DERMOT NOLAN IS A HAMILTON LAWYER AND RETIRED DEPUTY JUDGE.

Help! There’s a bull in the china shop.

Doug Ford, whose government appoints our provincial judges, is thrashing around dangerousl­y in the halls of justice, and the damage could be catastroph­ic. He now has his political minions picking our judges and he is boasting that “I am not going to appoint some NDP or some Liberal” and “so every single appointmen­t I can, to find tough judges, tough JPs, to keep guys in jail — I’m going to do it.”

Ford is not known for his intellectu­al heft. He probably never read what Socrates wrote over 2,400 years ago about what a good judge is expected to do: “To hear courteousl­y, to answer wisely, to consider soberly and to decide impartiall­y.” Socrates wouldn’t have worried about the NDP or the Liberals.

An overtly partisan judicial appointmen­t process that expressly excludes anyone from a different political party or anyone who believes that there is any more to the complex process of judging than “keeping guys in jail” is an insult to democracy. Our bovine premier claims his party was elected to get “like-minded” people appointed. His comments betray a juvenile grasp of the essence of democracy. The fact is that the electorate does not rule in a democracy; the law does.

We don’t need “tough” judges committed to keeping guys in jail. We need brave, fair, firm judges who treat people as human beings — not as “bad” guys or “good” guys — who listen carefully, consider deeply and apply even-handed justice with wisdom and compassion. The only question of “toughness” should be whether a judge will bring to that process the toughness required to fiercely resist any political, partisan or ideologica­l pressure and perform the function of judging with absolute impartiali­ty and independen­ce.

One need only look to the U.S. to recognize the difference between our system and one where the appointed Supreme Court has been grotesquel­y politicize­d and elected judges are forced to pander to public opinion and tailor their judgments to the biases of the day to ensure their re-election and job security. That is anathema to the whole reason we have judges — the neutral, non-partisan, unideologi­cal and unbiased deciders whom we rely on to turn the wheels of justice with firm and steady hands.

In 2021, Ford seized control of the Ontario Judicial Appointmen­ts Advisory Committee by increasing the number of members appointed by his government from seven to 10. Now his former deputy chief of staff has been appointed chair of the committee. The new chair has no legal background, but he is a registered corporate lobbyist and a proud senior fellow of a public policy think tank which is affiliated with a U.S.-based organizati­on that provides training for libertaria­n and conservati­ve groups around the world.

Ford’s judicial meddling is straight out of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s playbook. Like Ford, Netanyahu attempted to seize control of Israel’s judicial selection committee by ensuring the majority of its members were political appointees of his farright ruling coalition. His supporters made the same specious arguments that Ford is bandying around in Ontario.

Netanyahu’s manoeuvrin­g triggered furious protests that forced him to back down. Ford’s sustained attack on the independen­ce of our judiciary deserves the same fate. His recklessne­ss threatens to rupture the very genius that makes our judicial system work: namely, the absolute independen­ce and impartiali­ty of its linchpins — our judges. And, as any good mechanic will tell you, if you mess with the linchpin, there’s a good chance the wheels will come off.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada