Judge shortage in Nunavut reaching critical low: chief justice
“If no deputy judge can be found to take the place of a resident judge, circuit [courts] may have to be cancelled”
Nunavut’s senior justice, Robert Kilpatrick, is calling on the federal and territorial governments, as well as on the RCMP, to help address Nunavut’s “urgent” need for more judges and deputy judges.
Kilpatrick’s comments came during a late December swearing-in ceremony for Nunavut’s newest judge, Justice Paul Bychok.
The Judicial Appointments Screening Committee for Nunavut, which currently lacks representatives from the Nunavut government and the RCMP, has not met in four years to vet candidates for appointment to Nunavut’s bench, Kilpatrick said.
“There is little prospect of government making further judicial appointments until the committee tasked with vetting candidates for the bench is operational,” said Kilpatrick, adding that the judiciary has raised its concerns with both the Nunavut and federal governments.
And that could have serious consequences for justice in Nunavut, Kilpatrick said.
“The [Nunavut Court of Justice] will likely be unable to meet all of its core commitments in 2016 without further judicial appointments,” said Nunavut’s senior judge.
Over the past “several years,” Nunavut has lost nearly half of its 92 volunteer deputy judges to retirement and health concerns, Kilpatrick said, while seven judges await official appointment as deputy judges by the judicial review committee.
The Nunavut Court of Justice will have to rely on deputy judges, who take the place of resident judges in many matters, to meet its core commitments to communities in 2016, said Kilpatrick.
“If no deputy judge can be found to take the place of a resident judge, circuit [courts] may have to be cancelled. This court is acutely aware of the terrible stress that delay has on families in crisis.”
Kilpatrick thanked former federal minister of justice Peter Mackay for his “speedy response” in appointing Bychok to Nunavut’s bench.
That response came after an “urgent plea” from Kilpatrick for a vacancy created when former Nunavut Justice Andy Mahar transferred in 2015 to the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories.
“This timely response brought some relief to a judiciary who continue to struggle with an unrelenting level of serious violent crime. There is no room for complacency, however,” Kilpatrick said.
That’s because another empty seat on Nunavut’s bench remains unfilled from Justice Earl Johnson’s retirement in September, 2015.
And another seat will need to be filled soon, Kilpatrick said in his comments. The Nunavut Court of Justice confirmed Kilpatrick himself will be retiring in 2016.
“Much has been done by the judiciary to make the delivery of justice services in Nunavut more effective. Much more remains to be done, however,” he said.
The lack of judges in Nunavut has been a problem since the territory’s creation.
Kilpatrick himself stepped away from the bench in 2010 to raise this issue in the media.
A popular defence lawyer in Cambridge Bay, Peter Harte, spoke to the media in 2011 about the need for more locally-experienced deputy judges.
The Legal Services Board of Nunavut, Harte’s employer at the time, suspended the lawyer after Harte’s criticisms were broadcast on the CBC.
Less than a year later the LSB fired Harte’s wife, Karen Wilford, from her position as the executive director and senior family counsel at the Kitikmeot Law Centre.