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Justice Patrick Smith didn't breach Judges Act by accepting law school appointment, federal court rules

A Superior Court judge didn’t breach the Judges Act by accepting a position as interim dean of Lakehead University’s law school, Canada’s federal court ruled this week.

Decision quashes earlier ruling by Canadian Judicial Council

The Honourable Mr. Justice Patrick Smith did not breach the Judges Act after accepting a position as the interim dean at the Lakehead University law school in 2018. (Lakehead University)

A Superior Court judge didn't breach the Judges Act by accepting a position as interim dean of Lakehead University's law school, Canada's federal court ruled this week.

The crux of the issue is section 55 of the Judges Act, which states that judges can't "engage in any occupation or business other than his or her judicial duties."

In its decision in 2018, the Canadian Judicial Council (CJC) ruled that in accepting the interim dean position, Smith engaged in misconduct, and breached a judge's ethical obligations.

The CJC ruled Smith had engaged in misconduct, but that was deemed to be not serious.

However, in his ruling this week, Federal Court Justice Russel W. Zinn quashed the CJC decision, saying the CJC misinterpreted section 55.

"It was never the intention of Parliament in enacting section 55, to prohibit judges from all non-judicial activities, and a reasonable interpretation must accord with that intention," Zinn wrote.

"Moreover, it has always been the intention of Parliament that section 55 prohibits judges from taking on employment in a commercial, private or political capacity, i.e. in businesses or occupations, and that is so whether the judge is sitting or on leave."

"A sitting judge is permitted to engage in non-commercial activities that do not impair his or her ability to perform judicial duties."

Zinn states that in a case like this, a judge must get a leave of absence from their chief justice of the minister of justice; Smith did obtain a leave to accept the interim dean role at Lakehead.

Zinn ruled that Smith was "denied procedural fairness" in the CJC process, and quashed the decision by the CJC review panel.

Zinn also ruled that Smith did not breach section 55 of the Judges Act, nor judicial ethics.

He also ordered the CJC to post a copy of the judgment and reasons in this matter on its web site within 10 days.