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Justice Thomas Cromwell, seen in an undated photo published in a Court of Nova Scotia book, has been named to the Supreme Court of Canada. ((Courts of Nova Scotia/Canadian Press))

Stephen Harper has officially appointed Thomas Cromwell of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court, bypassing a parliamentary hearing process the prime minister has championed to more openly scrutinize nominees.

The appointment came the same day Harper named 18 people to the Senate.

"The Supreme Court must have its full complement of nine judges in order to execute its vital constitutional mandate effectively," Harper said in a statement on Monday. "Not only is Justice Cromwell one of Canada's most respected jurists, his appointment will also restore regional balance to the Court which now, once again, has an Atlantic Canadian representative."

Cromwell replaces Michel Bastarache, who told the chief justice that he would retire at the end of the court's spring session.

The statement said Harper personally consulted with interim Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff before making the appointment.

Cromwell was expected to appear before an all-party parliamentary committee to be interviewed before his official appointment as part of a new selection process to the top court implemented in 2006.

Justice Marshall Rothstein became the first nominee to undergo a public review by members of Parliament. He is the only justice to take part in that process.

Despite the review, Harper still has final power to approve or quash the nomination, which has sparked some critics to dismiss the exercise as meaningless.

In Monday's statement, Harper cited "the urgency of filling the eight-month vacancy" to make an exception and restated his commitment to return to a parliamentary mechanism to "scrutinize future Supreme Court nominees."

Creation of the committee was delayed by the election campaign, then delayed again when Harper suspended Parliament until the new year to avert a confidence vote that threatened to topple his minority Conservative government.

"The Supreme Court rightly exists above partisan politics and Canadians of all political persuasions will benefit from its return to a full complement of judges," Harper said in the statement.

Cromwell has missed the fall session of the court that began in October. He would have missed another session that begins in mid-January if there had been any further delay.

Cromwell, 56, from Kingston, Ont., initially studied music but got his law degree in Ontario in 1976. He practised and taught law, including two stints at the Dalhousie Law School in Halifax. He was the executive legal officer in the chambers of the Supreme Court's chief justice for three years.

He first became a Nova Scotia appeals judge in 1997.

With files from the Canadian Press