If you only remember one thing about our justice system, remember this: Even though our governments pay for everything, our courts and judges are independent of government. No government can tell a court or judge how to decide a case.
Judicial independence is the cornerstone of our justice system. Judicial independence means that judges are free to make their decisions without interference or influence from any source, including elected officials like Members of the Legislature or Members of Parliament. Even the Prime Minister of Canada cannot influence a court decision.
Judges have a responsibility to listen to both sides of the case and then to make impartial, fair decisions based on the evidence and the law.
If a judge felt pressure from the government to decide the case in a particular way, that could be very unfair to anyone with a competing interest in the case. The rights of individual citizens would not be protected.
The judge has to feel free to make the right decision - the decision that is consistent with the facts and the law - even if the judge knows that the decision may be unpopular.
Judges are also responsible to the courts. A judge would never refuse to hear a case because it was going to be difficult or unpopular, but occasionally a judge has to refuse to hear a case because she or he has some sort of prior connection with one of the parties, or some other conflict of interest.
Where the conflict is slight, the judge may disclose the connection to both parties and allow the lawyers in the case to raise any concerns they have with the judge continuing to hear the case. It’s important that both parties feel confident that the judge will be impartial. For example, if the case involved the judge’s neighbour, then the neighbour or the judge might feel uncomfortable with the judge hearing the case because they have a relationship outside the courtroom.
Judges may be appointed at any age. Federally appointed judges can serve until the age of 75. Provincial Court judges may work until the age of 70.