Respect For Our Courts Is Of Paramount Importance

By Elaine Bright | September 11, 2014

Elaine Bright – Pace Personal Injury Lawyer in Kenora: Many people – particularly lawyers – are up in arms about comments made by the Prime Minister of Canada about the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada:

There’s a great deal of puzzlement about why Prime Minister Stephen Harper waited nine months before letting it be known he feels Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin should not have tried to approach him about a Supreme Court appointment…

Tom Flanagan, once a campaign manager and confidante of Harper’s, said in an interview, “It’s unprecedented as far as I know for a prime minister in office to make public a professional conversation with the chief justice, same with the Governor General, you just don’t do it,” Flanagan said.

11 former presidents of the Canadian Bar Association penned a statement in the CBC in response to the Prime Minister’s remarks:

The recent comments by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, claiming that the Chief Justice of Canada attempted an inappropriate conversation with him, demonstrate a disrespect by the executive branch for the judicial branch of our constitutional democracy, and for the Chief Justice of Canada as the most senior member of the Canadian judiciary. This is so despite the fact that the discussion in question involved a possible new appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada, a topic well within guidelines for appropriate conversations between prime ministers and chief justices.

The PM’s comments seemed to call into question both her integrity and her judgment. Why does this matter? What’s the big deal?I think that respect for our judiciary matters enormously. I think our safety and security depend on it.

One of the cornerstones of our form of democracy is the “rule of law”. The rule of law means that no one is above the law, not even the ruler. We don’t see ourselves as having any kind of divine ruler that can tell us all what to do. Nations that are governed by the rule of law generally agree that laws should be created where needed to manage our relations; they should be made democratically; they should be made public and that they should apply to everyone, including governments.

Respect for our courts, then, is an essential component of our way of life – our safety, our freedom and our security. 

The rule of law only works if we respect our courts enough to let them settle our disputes according to the laws, rules and practices that have been created by our democratically elected representatives. If we don’t trust our courts to do that, people could choose other means, such as violence, to settle disputes. If the dispute is with the government we could see citizens taking up arms against a government with terrible consequences for us all.

The rule of law also requires that governments respect the courts. If governments don’t respect the courts’ decisions, we could see elected officials or government staff telling employees to do things that are illegal. If such actions expand, our democracy starts to fall apart.

Respect for our courts, then, is an essential component of our way of life – our safety, our freedom and our security. If that respect is weakened or lost, we should all be worried.

Let’s look at the current situation – was there a good reason for Prime Minister Harper to publically criticize Chief Justice McLaughlin in the way he did? The response from the legal community has been a resounding “no.” Harper suggested that the Chief Justice of Canada tried to initiate a conversation with him about a matter that she might have to hear in her court.

It is clear, though, that the Chief Justice was doing something she was expected to do: consult with the government about the appointment of a judge to her court. All Chief Justices of Canada have done so. She had no way of knowing that the government was considering bringing the issue of this appointment to court. Even though she is in a powerful position, she cannot see into the future.

Most of us have expressed opinions on court decisions – sometimes we think a sentence for a criminal conviction was too lenient or too harsh; sometimes we think an injured person should have got more compensation or was given too much. But I rarely hear anyone say that a court’s decision should not be respected.

I hope that the Prime Minister of Canada will respond to the chorus of voices calling for him to retract his criticism of the Chief Justice of Canada. We must retain our respect for the judiciary – a lot depends on it.

Elaine Bright is a lawyer with Pace Law Firm. She handles cases in Kenora and throughout Northwestern Ontario. Pace’s personal injury lawyers have been helping accident victims in Toronto and throughout Ontario since 1980.