Nunavut judges release public statement vowing to guard their independence

Release of statement falls just prior to first sitting of the new legislature March 6


The Nunavut Court of Justice has sent a clear message to the public: the court must remain independent from those who make the laws and those who enforce them.

A strongly-worded statement, released Feb. 24 — the same day the NCJ issued its annual statistics on the heavy burdens that Nunavut’s high crime rates impose on the court system — said Nunavut’s judiciary will be “relentless and unyielding in its insistence that judicial independence be protected from those who would challenge it, or seek to encroach upon it.”

The statement, called “Judicial Independence (And What the Public Should Know About It,)” accompanies the release of a Justice of the Peace policy. (See document embedded below)

The reason, and the timing, of this forceful declaration of independence are unclear. The letter offers only this explanation:

“The purpose of these comments is to help the public understand what judicial independence is and why it is important,” it says.

“Those who come before the courts must be certain that decisions made by the courts are not subject to outside influence.”

The four-page statement outlines what role the judiciary plays compared in contrast to the two other branches of government: the legislative and executive branches.

It warns that the judiciary must be separate from the executive and legislative branches, and that “it must remain so to preserve its impartiality.”

Judicial independence means that judges are not pressured or influenced, it explains, and that judges must make decisions “based solely on facts and law.”

The statement emphasizes that Canada’s constitution requires a judge’s security of tenure, financial security and administrative independence.

On the subject of administrative independence, the statement said — again — the court must “remain separate from other branches of government to prevent any suggestion of improper influence.”

All three branches of government are accountable for their allocation of resources, the statement said.

“Judicial independence is not a shield against scrutiny.”

But there is “bound to be continuing tension” for those financial and human resources.

Resources must be allocated within the boundaries permitted by the constitution, the statement said.

But the courts can never predict how many cases they will have to deal with from year to year nor the complexity of those cases.

Because of this, “predetermined limits on human financial resources by those outside the judicial system are likely to give rise to serious problems.”

The letter calls for resource “flexibility” in light of the changing demands of the judiciary.

The court’s annual statistical report, entitled “Ingiravugut Suli: Our Journey Continues” and also released Feb. 24, reported that the number of cases closed by the court in 2013 had increased from the previous year.

It also highlighted improvements they have made to save the judiciary money — including upgraded sound systems and video conferencing systems.

The Nunavut Legislative Assembly — the legislative branch of government — begins its first session March 6, at which time MLAs will release a new mandate statement for the fourth assembly.

Former Nunavut Premier Paul Okalik is responsible for the justice portfolio, succeeding Daniel Shewchuk, who did not contest last October’s election.

Judicial Independence in Nunavut

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