MAKING A COMPLAINT

Who can make a complaint?

Any member of the public can make a complaint to the Council provided the complaint is about judicial conduct, is made in writing, and is about a specific federally appointed judge, the Council will review the matter.

Although the Minister of Justice or a provincial Attorney General can initiate a formal inquiry about a federally appointed judge, most complaints come from the general public.

If a provincial Attorney General or the Minister of Justice of Canada submits a complaint, the Council must appoint an Inquiry Committee to consider whether a recommendation should be made to the Minister of Justice to remove the judge from office. The Inquiry Committee must hold a hearing, normally in public. The Council then considers the report of the Inquiry Committee and makes a recommendation to the Minister of Justice.

In accordance with the complaints process, the Canadian Judicial Council can also initiate an inquiry into a judge’s conduct.

Who can you make a complaint against?

The Canadian Judicial Council has the authority to investigate complaints only about federally appointed judges in Canada. These are judges from federal courts and higher levels of courts in each province.

The Council cannot investigate general complaints about the justice system, the courts, or the judiciary as a whole. It cannot change judicial decisions in court cases, compensate individuals, grant appeals, or address demands for a new trial.

The Canadian Judicial Council does not have jurisdiction over the lower levels of provincial courts, such as those that hear small claims disputes, and some family and criminal matters. If you want to make a complaint about a judge in one of those courts, you must direct your complaint to the judicial council in your province or territory.

The Canadian Judicial Council does not have the authority to investigate complaints against court staff or lawyers. Complaints about court staff should be made to the court administration office of the courthouse in question. Complaints about lawyers should be made to the Law Society in your province or territory.

How do I make a complaint?

The Canadian Judicial Council seeks to ensure a fair process when a complaint is made against a judge. Every complaint is considered seriously and conscientiously.

You do not have to be represented by a lawyer if you want to make a complaint about a judge. You do not need to use a special form to make a complaint to the Council although one is offered here for your convenience. There is no fee charged and no deadline for making a complaint. The Council requires only that a complaint be:

  • in writing;
  • about a named, federally appointed judge; and
  • about the conduct of a judge and not their decision.

You can write a letter to the Canadian Judicial Council, and send it by regular mail (Canadian Judicial Council, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0W8) or by email. Your letter should include:

  • your name and address;
  • the name of the judge you are making a complaint against; and
  • a description of the judge’s conduct that you believe was inappropriate.

What happens after I make a complaint?

The Council is committed to reviewing complaints about the conduct of judges in a way that is sensitive to the person making the complaint, fair to the judge who the complaint was about, and credible to the judiciary and the public. While the public must have a way to voice its concerns about members of the judiciary, the judges must be given an opportunity to respond to the allegation of misconduct. The complaint procedure is set out fully in the Canadian Judicial Council’s Complaint Procedures.

The Council takes complaints very seriously and deals with them as quickly as possible. Out of the 200 or so complaints received every year, the Council concludes the majority of them within three months.

Step 1: review of complaint

A member of the Council’s Judicial Conduct Committee first reviews the complaint. Many complaints are dismissed because they do not meet the criteria for review. For example, some complaints are about a judge’s decision in a case, not his or her conduct; others may be about a provincially appointed judge, rather than a federally appointed judge.

Step 2: investigation of the complaint

When the Council further investigates, a copy of the complaint is sent to the judge in question and the chief justice of that judge’s province, with a request for comments.  The Complainant may also be asked to provide additional comments.

Some complaints contain serious allegations of inappropriate conduct against a judge and must be further investigated by the Council. Such cases may be investigated with the assistance of a lawyer from outside the Council. This person is chosen for their expertise and reputation in the legal community. The lawyer may interview the judge, the complainant, and others who are connected with the situation, and prepare a report.

Step 3: the Review Panel

If the complaint is not immediately resolved, the matter may be handed over to a Review Panel for further study. The Review Panel is composed of up to five members, who are all judges. If the Review Panel concludes that the complaint has merit, but is not serious enough to move to the next stage (formal hearing by the Inquiry Committee), the Review Panel may close the file with an expression of concern, or may recommend counselling for the judge, or other similar remedial actions.

Step 4: Inquiry Committee

If the complaint might be serious enough to warrant the judge’s removal from office, the Review Panel can decide that there should be an Inquiry Committee to hear the matter. The Inquiry Committee is composed of Council members and senior lawyers.

If the complaint comes from a provincial Attorney General or the Minister of Justice of Canada, the matter may go directly to an Inquiry Committee.

The Inquiry Committee can conduct its own investigation into the complaint, and hear from the judge, the person who made the complaint, and others. The Inquiry Committee normally holds a public hearing, where the judge and the person who complained can attend and give evidence about the matter that led to the complaint. The Inquiry Committee prepares a report, which goes to the full Canadian Judicial Council for discussion.

Step 5: recommendations

After considering the Inquiry Committee’s report, the Council must decide whether the judge’s conduct has rendered the judge “incapacitated or disabled from the due execution of the office of judge.”

Council may recommend to Parliament (through the Minister of Justice) that the judge be removed from office. Parliament has never had to face such a situation, but sometimes a judge will retire or resign before that step is taken.

Step 6: notice of the decision

When the complaint has been considered and a decision is reached, the Council will advise the person who complained of its decision in writing.

Checklist for making a complaint to the Canadian Judicial Council

  • no deadline
  • no fee
  • no need for legal representation
  • no special form required
  • complaint must:
    • be about a federally appointed judge
    • be about a judge’s conduct (not a decision the judge made in court)
    • be in writing
    • be sent by mail or email
    • include your name and address
    • give the judge’ s name
    • provide the date, court, and circumstances of the judge’s conduct in question
    • describe the judge’s conduct in question
  • You can also use this optional form if you prefer.