As reported this month in the Globe and Mail, Justice Colin Westman has joined a chorus of Canadian judges refusing to apply the law, as a protest against the federal government’s criminal sentencing legislation. Whatever the merits of their political views on the subject, the rebellious judges threaten a constitutional showdown which they will not, and should not win. As lawyers and law students, it is important for us to understand why judicial rebellion is not judicial independence. Judicial rebellion harms judicial independence. To see this, one has to understand the source of judicial power.
The zone of judicial independence holds back executive power through the judicial province and duty “to say what the law is.” Those were the words of Chief Justice John Marshall in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1803 decision in Marbury v. Madison. Arguably the most important judicial decision in history, it meant governments could be checked by a suit brought by the lowly citizen, at a time when monarchs, dictators and parliaments were doing whatever they liked.
Despite his belief in an inherent judicial power, Judge Westman commands no army, instructs no police, and disburses no funds. In the case of sentencing, the judge does not incarcerate or enforce a fine. Rather, those are the administrative functions of government based on the judicial opinion (a judgment) of what the prison term or fine should be, and a statutory law saying that Corrections Canada will abide by that judgment. This is the very rule of law that protects citizens against arbitrary detention and cruel and unusual punishment.
Once the judge says what the law is, and then expects the administration to act completely contrary to what the law is, the cause-and-effect between judicial pronouncement and administrative action is strained. The government is left to contemplate the appropriate course of action. It might respond, “We’ll do what you say is the law, not what you say we should do.” Or it might say, “We’ll do what you say we should do, not what you say is the law.” Or it might say, “We’ll do what we’ll do, whatever you say.” The court loses its authority to say what the law is, and the leash on executive power is snapped. Say farewell to judicial independence and the power to curb against unconstitutional penal sanctions.
The judge’s belief that his personal conscience or “theological perspective,” in the case of Justice Westman, can trump the law of the land is even more problematic, because it is not based on legal reasoning at all. You can imagine a judge in an access to abortion case saying the law of Canada allows freedom of access but his theology trumps and requires him to defer granting an access injunction for 9 months. The reasoning is the same as that employed in making a fine payable over such a length of time that it imposes no hardship to the person convicted of the crime, or setting it so low that the amount offends the purpose of a victim-of-crime surcharge.
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Post-Script: A colleague has raised the question of Justice Westman’s “inherent jurisdiction” to rule on the validity of a law with which the court disagrees. The answer must be: No. Inherent jurisdiction does not operate where Parliament has acted: See most recently: Montréal, Maine & Atlantique Canada Co. (Arrangement relatif à), 2013 QCCS 4039 (CanLII) at para. 22. The leading case is Baxter Student Housing Ltd. et al. v. College Housing Co-operative Ltd. et al., 1975 CanLII 164 (SCC). The only power to strike down or refuse to follow Parliament resides in the court’s ability to say what the Constitution says.
The doctrine of inherent jurisdiction in Common Law originates with the way the courts were formed in England in empowering a high court to hear any matter that comes before it. Its application in criminal law in Canada is limited largely to the control of the court’s own process and to the interpretations given to principles employed in the Criminal Code. If judges were permitted to refuse to apply penalties prescribed by statute, the same “inherent” jurisdiction could be used to apply penalties that are harsher than those prescribed by statute, and the accused’s resort would be to s. 11 of the Charter. If one member of the bench abuses “inherent jurisdiction” to oppose a law because of a personal opinion that it is too harsh, another judge might also abuse that power to oppose a prescribed penalty that appears insufficient for general and specific deterrence.
It was in French. ’How’s your French,’ I asked. ’Awful,’ he replied. ’I guess you haven’t read it,’ I continued. ’I expect it says what you say it says,’ he explained. Alas.
In the final article in the Accidental Mentor, I share my memory of the late George Miller, an extraordinary lawyer. He taught me never to interpret a document without reading it first. Simple enough? How many times have you broken that rule? Scan or click on the QR Code above-right, to read the article.
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La semaine dernier, je parlais à un avocat et je me suis aperçu qu’il n’avait pas lu le document dont nous discutions.
Un document écrit en français. ’How is your French,’ lui dis-je. ’Awful,’ dit-il. ’I guess you haven’t read it,’ j’ai reprit. ’I expect it says what you say it says,’ il m’a expliqué. Hélas.
Dans l’article finale du Accidental Mentor, je raconte mes souvenirs de George Miller, un avocat hors pair qui m’a appris de ne jamais interpréter un document sans le lire. Ce n’est pas toujours si facile de suivre ce règle. Lisez ou cliquez sur le code QR ci-dessus pour accéder à l’article.
Want a break from reading the Law Society of Upper Canada’s 88-page Appeal Decision in Groia?
Consider it a replay of that old Hume v. Kant debate: To what extent can the passions inform ethical behaviour? Or, to extrapolate Sontag’s famous 1963 NYRB book review contrasting Camus with Sartre, the Groia appeal panel confirms that trial lawyers ought to be good ‘spouses’ and not try to be good ‘lovers.’ The Ideal Husband stands as one of the great essays of the 20th Century, and proves that great thought can be a light read.
Malheureusement, l’arrêt Groia n’est pas encore disponible en français. Même le grand débat entre Camus et Sartre, réduit à un contraste entre un époux et un amant par Susan Sontag, doit être capturé en anglais – mais The Ideal Husband est une bonne lecture même après 50 ans.
As shoppers file past the packaged meat counter at a Korean Tesco’s built into a subway platform, brings the groceries to commuters, then delivers them to their homes. The virtual grocery, sort of like iTunes for those who want the record store browsing experience, might give us a glimpse of the law firm of the future.
Never has the market for legal services been so mismatched. The courts, especially in family law, are bursting at the seams with pro se litigants. Firms, on the other hand, resist cutting back on essentials like supper club memberships for partners. The reality is that there are not enough lawyers to go round, and not enough blue chip clients to keep some lawyers in the lifestyle to which they were once accustomed.
In my penultimate Accidental Mentor column for the Canadian Lawyer, I suggest the chasm in access to justice will cause us to develop a fundamentally new model for delivery of legal services. What does this old world need? Nothing less than a supermarket of law.
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Dans un supermarché coréen Tesco, les baladeurs dans la station de métro peuvent choisir leur produits parmi les stockages qui ne videra jamais: car les achats vont être versés à partir d’un entrepôt central. Est-ce que cela peut inspirer le cabinet d’avocats du futur?
Le marché des services juridiques n’a jamais été si basculé. Devant les tribunaux, surtout en droit de la famille, les auto-représentants sont nombreux. Chez les grands cabinets, pourtant, l’espoir de la recherche des clients payants revendique le renouvellement des adhésions aux clubs exclusifs. À dire la vérité, il n’y a pas assez d’avocats, et pas assez de clients qui peuvent payer des bons frais.
Dans ma pénultième article du Accidental Mentor pour le Canadian Lawyer, je propose que le problème de l’accès à la justice va nous forcer the contempler une façon entièrement radicale pour l’offre des services juridiques. Ce dont on a besoin? Rien de plus remarquable qu’un supermarché de droit.
The most difficult part of mentorship is convincing the new members of our profession that they belong. The reason why anyone belongs anywhere is a question of history. Whose grandfather took the train to Toronto? Whose parents were rescued from a refugee camp? Whose ancestors were brought here against their will? How you arrived in the Canadian legal profession concludes with your degree in law and a place among our nation’s lawyers. It is a story you need to tell yourself, or have someone take an interest in having you tell it.
In the October article in the Canadian Lawyer’s Accidental Mentor column, I offer two vignettes to illustrate how the failure to know about a people’s history can lead us to make them feel excluded, and how taking an interest in their history will reveal how much they belong, as much as anyone else qualified to practice law. Click on the map of the Atlantic, for the article.
P.S. If you’re ever visiting Liverpool, head for the International Slavery Museum. It’ll change your perspective on the wealth of the North Atlantic forever.
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Le travail le plus difficile du mentorat, c’est de persuader les nouveaux avocats et avocates que leurs histoires personnelles ont valeur. Que la patrimonie appartient à tous et à toutes. Dans l’article d’octobre 2013 dans la série Accidental Mentor sur le site du Canadian Lawyer, j’offre deux exemples de ce thèse. Si on ignore l’histoire d’un peuple, on les exclue. Si on prend le temps d’encourager les gens à raconter leurs histoires, ils vont se persuader qu’ils ont le droit d’être parmi nous, les avocats canadiens. Cliquez sur la carte de l’Océan atlantique, pour accéder à l’article.
P.S. Si vous vous trouvez jamais à Liverpool, il ne faut pas manquer le International Slavery Museum. Profitez-en pour une expérience inoubliable à propos de l’histoire de l’hémisphère atlantique.
On October 16, as part of their joint professional development seminar, Current Topics in Ethics & Professionalism, the Toronto Lawyers Association and University of Toronto’s Centre for the Legal Profession will be staging “A Great Debate: Should Lawyers Consider Themselves the Moral Conscience of their Clients?” I will be debating in favour of the resolution.
If you are attending and want to prep for the debate, or can’t make it, read my September, 2013, column in the Canadian Lawyer entitled “Lawyers and their demons.” (click on graphic, above right)
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Le 16 octobre, l’Association des juristes de Toronto et le Centre du barreau de l’Université de Toronto présenteront , Current Topics in Ethics & Professionalism. Durant ce programme de formation juridique, je discutera dans “le Grand débat” en faveur de la proposition: Est-ce que les avocats doivent s’identifier en tant que le sens moral de leur clients?
Si vous vous inscrirez et voulez préparer en avance, ou vous ne pouvez pas nous rejoindre, baladez au site du Canadian Lawyer et cliquez sur mon article, “Lawyers and their demons.” (cliquez sur l’image en haut)