New Brunswick

New Brunswick judge faces review over lengthy delays

A New Brunswick judge notorious for making parties wait months, sometimes years for decisions, is facing a review and possible discipline in front of the Canadian Judicial Council.

Justice Paulette Garnett was pressured to clear up backlog of cases last year

A New Brunswick judge notorious for making parties wait months, sometimes years for decisions, is facing a review and possible discipline in front of the Canadian Judicial Council.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Paulette Garnett, who was the subject of a judicial intervention last year to speed up her work, continues to miss deadlines by wide margins and is now facing a formal review. 

"I can advise that a complaint has been filed at the Canadian Judicial Council with respect to the timely filing of decisions,"  Natalie Leblanc, the court registrar, told CBC News in an email Tuesday.

Last year, New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice David Smith "intervened" with Garnett to clear a backlog of old cases and generally speed up decisions coming from her court. 

Protocols adopted in 2003 require all judgments to be delivered within six months of a hearing, barring illness or permission from the chief justice.

"It is important that litigants learn the results of their hearing or trial in a reasonable period of time," states the protocol. 

Two-year wait for decision

However, Garnett has a long history of missing that limit, taking two years and more to deliver judgments in some cases. 

And a CBC review of recent decisions show the intervention of the province’s chief judge has had little effect on that conduct with several judgments exceeding the six-month limit just in the past year.

Johanna Laporte, a spokesperson for the Canadian Judicial Council, said the identity of who complained about Garnett is confidential but confirmed it was lodged within the last month.

She said anything from a dismissal of the complaint to dismissal of the judge is a possible outcome. 

"The judge and her chief justice will be asked to comment on the complaint," Laporte told CBC News.

"The options could be the matter is dismissed, perhaps a letter of concern would be issued or it could go to a review panel of three to five judges. That review panel could then decide to refer the matter to a public inquiry ultimately perhaps leading to a recommendation for removal."

In January, Garnett issued a decision in a dispute between Wilson Fuel and its former dealer Johnny's Gas Bar Ltd. more than nine months after conducting a one-day hearing into the dispute.

Last October, a decision she made in a case between David Redden and Manufacturers Life Insurance Company took eight and a half months even though that was a one-day hearing as well.

The protocol on decisions says taking more than six months should happen "only in rare and exceptional circumstances.” A review of recent cases shows Garnett missed that deadline six times in the last year alone. 

Longest delay

Her worst delay came in 2005 when she presided over a one-day hearing between Fredericton's old Elm City Chrysler dealership, its owners and their bank to resolve questionable transactions.

She delivered a decision two years and two months later.

The delays violate judicial protocol and inconvenience people trying to have disputes resolved, but can have more serious consequences.

On Monday, Garnett's procrastination surfaced as a background issue at a New Brunswick Labour and Employment Board  hearing into the demotion of women's hockey as a varsity sport at UNB. 

The university defunded women's hockey six years ago and is arguing that a complaint by former player Sylvia Bryson  is now moot because so much time has elapsed she is no longer eligible to play for the school. 

About one-third of the delay was caused by Garnett, who held a one-day hearing on the issue in 2011 and then took a year and nine months to rule that the Labour Board hearing could proceed.


Robert Jones


Robert Jones has been a reporter and producer with CBC New Brunswick since 1990. His investigative reports on petroleum pricing in New Brunswick won several regional and national awards and led to the adoption of price regulation in 2006.