Gallant names 5 women to bench, achieves gender parity on provincial court

The Gallant government has appointed five new judges to the Provincial Court, all of them women, and has promoted a sitting judge to be the court's first female chief judge.

New chief judge is Jolène Richard, spouse of Dominic LeBlanc and 1st woman to head provincial court

Premier Brian Gallant appointed five female judges to the provincial court on Tuesday. The court will now have an equal number of men and women on the bench. (CBC)

The Gallant government has appointed five new judges to the Provincial Court, all of them women, and has promoted a sitting judge to be the court's first female chief judge.

The new chief judge will be Jolène Richard, who was named to the bench in 2008 and is the spouse of Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc, one of Premier Brian Gallant's closest political allies.

Gallant said Tuesday morning there was no favouritism in the choice of Richard.

Judge Jolène Richard will be the first woman to serve as the chief judge of the provincial court. ((Stewart McKelvey website))

"We're very happy to have the first female to occupy the post of chief judge of the provincial court of New Brunswick," he said.

In a written statement, retiring chief judge Pierre Arseneault called her "a very talented individual and a jurist of the highest experience."

He cited her "great personal energy, her work ethic and her experience on the bench."

The premier said Arsenault recommended two judges for the cabinet to choose from in naming his replacement.

Gallant wouldn't identify the other candidate, or whether it was a man or a woman. He wouldn't say why Richard was chosen over the other judge.

"I'm not going to get into HR issues," he said.

"We chose somebody that we think has a great track record and is definitely competent to be able to fulfil this function in a very good way for the people of New Brunswick."

Richard will take over as chief judge on June 2.

Political fight

PC MLA Kirk MacDonald alleged in the legislature last year that a controversial bill affecting the Court of Queen’s Bench was aimed at securing an appointment for Richard to that court. (CBC)
Last year, Progressive Conservative MLA Kirk MacDonald alleged in the legislature that a controversial bill affecting the Court of Queen's Bench was aimed at securing an appointment for Richard to that court.

Court of Queen's Bench justices are appointed by the federal government while provincial court judges are named by the provincial government.

The Liberals have introduced legislation that would take away the power of Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice David Smith to unilaterally move judges on his court from city to city. The provincial justice minister would get a veto.

MacDonald alleged last year that the bill was designed to block Smith from transferring one of his judges to Moncton so that a vacancy could be kept open for Richard.

Smith transferred a judge to fill a Moncton vacancy earlier last year.

5 new judges

Natalie LeBlanc will be a new provincial court judge based in Miramichi as a part of Tuesday's appointments.
The five new judges announced Tuesday are new to the bench and were interviewed by an independent panel, Gallant said.

The new judges are:

  • Joanne Durette, who will be a travelling judge based in Bathurst.
  • Johanne-Marguerite Landry, who will be a travelling judge based in Caraquet.
  • Natalie LeBlanc, who will be based in Miramichi. 
  • Lucie Mathurin, who will be based in Moncton. 
  • Kelly Ann Winchester, who will be based in Saint John.

The appointments bring the total number of full-time judges on the provincial court to 24. Half of them are women.

Gallant has named eight provincial court judges since October 2014, and seven have been women.

The premier said the new appointments should also help "increase accessibility" to the justice system.

Provinces have been grappling with a Supreme Court of Canada ruling last year that imposed new time limits on how long an accused person must wait before being put on trial.

The limits have led to several cases being thrown out because of long delays, and one solution identified has been to make sure there's a full complement of judges to handle the volume of cases.

About the Author

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.