New Brunswick

Liberals may never use veto power in judge-moving bill, Gallant says

Premier Brian Gallant says his government may never use a controversial law that would let it veto the transfer of Court of Queen's Bench judges by the court's chief justice.

Premier surprised by opposition to 'pretty mundane' legislation on transferring Court of Queen's Bench judges

Premier Brian Gallant said the goal of the legislation was to make sure a small town was not 'just a revolving door' for judges until they could get appointed to their home city or a major city. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Premier Brian Gallant says his government may never use a controversial law that would let it veto the transfer of Court of Queen's Bench judges by the court's chief justice.

In a year-end interview with CBC News, Gallant downplayed the legislation, which has drawn criticism from Chief Justice David Smith, the Progressive Conservative Opposition and the Canadian Bar Association.

"We're a bit surprised this has been this big of an issue," Gallant said. "We really don't get it. … It's a pretty mundane and small thing."

Smith has called the legislation a potential intrusion on judicial independence. The existing law gives Smith the power to transfer Court of Queen's Bench judges on his own.

The amendment to the Judicature Act would subject those transfers to a veto by the provincial justice minister.

But Gallant said in the interview it's possible a veto would never happen.

"We may never use the power that we now have with the Judicature Act," he said. "It's just something that's in place and we'll see how things move forward and how the justice system as a whole embraces the changes."

The Liberals reintroduced the legislation Nov. 16, but it did not move it to second reading before the legislature adjourned for the Christmas break.

Justice Minister Denis Landry said in November the bill was designed to stop the practice of Court of Queen's Bench judges being appointed by the federal government to one place, then being transferred by Smith in a relatively short time.

"This is what we want to correct," Landry said. "If we name a judge, they should reside there for a long period of time, not just two or three months, then move them where they want to go."

He mentioned Woodstock as one town where judges had been appointed, then transferred out too quickly.

Accused of holding spots for friends

But in the year-end interview, Gallant refused to comment on one such transfer that took place in June.

Justice Tracey DeWare, first appointed to Campbellton in 2012, was later transferred by Smith to Woodstock. In June, Smith transferred her again to Moncton, her hometown.

I'm not going to talk on a specific case.- Brian Gallant, premier

Gallant wouldn't say whether the DeWare move would have been vetoed if the new law had been in effect.

"I'm not going to talk on a specific case," he said. "I won't speak to what Minister Landry was trying to demonstrate in his example. I'm not aware of his comments and what he was thinking at the time."

Gallant said the goal of the legislation was to make sure a small town was not "just a revolving door," where judges could be appointed "as they wait to get to their home city, or one of the major cities."

"We've seen that happen over the last few years," he said.

But the phenomenon is "not the largest problem facing New Brunswick."

The PC Opposition alleges that Gallant is pushing the bill to prevent Smith from moving judges to fill vacancies that the Liberals want to keep open for their friends.

Earlier this year, Smith's lawyer went to court after the province turned down his right-to-information request for documents on the bill. He lost the appeal.

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