WHAT DO JUDGES DO?

A judge’s role is to make a decision between parties in a legal dispute, based on the facts of the case and the law that applies to the facts. The parties must accept the judge’s decision as final, unless one of them appeals the judge’s decision to a higher court.

How do judges get appointed?

Judges are appointed “to the Bench.” The federal government appoints judges who hear cases in the superior courts (which include: provincial and territorial superior courts, provincial courts of appeal, the Federal Court, the Federal Court of Appeal, the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada, the Tax Court of Canada, and the Supreme Court of Canada). The provincial and territorial governments appoint judges who hear cases in the provincial and territorial (lower) courts.

 

Judicial candidates must have practiced law in Canada and have other important qualifications. After they are appointed, judges have access to special training on all aspects of judging and all areas of the law.

How long can a judge remain a judge?

Once a judge is appointed, they are eligible to be a judge until the age of retirement. For federally appointed judges, retirement is mandatory at age 75. In some provincial and territorial jurisdictions, the retirement age is 70.

 

A judge can be removed from office only if an independent investigation shows that they have not met the high standard of personal conduct required of judges, both in court and in public, and that the Canadian Judicial Council recommends to Parliament (through the Minister of Justice) that the judge be removed from office.

Judicial councils have responsibility for promoting professional standards and conduct of judges. There is a separate judicial council for judges appointed by a province or territory, and those appointed by the federal government. A judicial council may recommend that a judge be removed from office if it finds that a judge has been guilty of serious misconduct.

The Canadian Judicial Council is responsible for federally appointed judges only. The process for making a complaint about a federally appointed judge and the Council’s review of that complaint is described in another part of this website called Expected Conduct of Judges.

What is judicial independence?

Judicial independence is paramount in the Canadian judicial system. The Canadian Constitution provides that the judiciary (the judges) is separate from and independent of the other two branches of government – the legislative and the executive. So, while the government’s role is to create laws for Canadian society, a judge’s job is to interpret those laws. It is important to remember that the courts do not make new laws; they make decisions based on existing laws that the government has passed.

 

Judicial independence means that judges are not subject to pressure and influence, and are free to make good decisions based solely on fact and law. Independence is ensured by three things:

  • Security of tenure – Once appointed, a judge is entitled to serve on the Bench until the age of retirement, unless there is good reason for them to be removed from office.
  • Financial security – Judges are paid sufficiently so they are not dependent on or subject to pressure from other institutions.
  • Administrative independence – The chief justice in each province and territory decides how that court manages the litigation process and which cases the judges will hear.

Where to learn more about what judges do:

Legislation

  • The Constitution Act provides for the appointment of judges.
  • The Judges Act is the legislation that establishes how judges are appointed, age of retirement, salary, and the Canadian Judicial Council’s mandate.

The National Judicial Institute

  • The National Judicial Institute is responsible for the development and delivery of educational programs for all federal, provincial, and territorial judges in Canada.

The role of a judge