Justice minister announces 24 new judges in effort to end national shortage

After months of criticism for not acting fast enough to appoint judges, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould announced 24 judicial appointments Thursday.

New judges fill 1/3 of vacant positions, but no new appointments to bench until early 2017

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has appointed 24 new judges and changed how judges are promoted to the bench. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

After months of criticism for not acting fast enough to appoint much-needed judges across the country, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould announced 24 judicial appointments Thursday. 

"We have moved to fill urgent judicial vacancies by drawing on existing lists of recommended candidates," the minister said in a statement. "The government is confident in the outstanding quality of these appointees and their dedication to delivering just outcomes for Canadians."

Of the 24 new appointees, 14 are women and two are Indigenous. 

Judicial appointment process changing

In making her announcement Wilson-Raybould said judicial advisory committees, which assess candidates for the bench and make recommendations to the minister, will remain a part of judicial appointments process — but the process will be reformed in a number of ways.

The government is reversing changes brought in 10 years ago by the Harper government, such as the Conservatives' requirement that each judicial advisory committee (JAC) include a member from the law enforcement community.

The size of the 17 advisory committees across Canada will now be set at seven members, with one member from the provincial or territorial law society, another from the regional branch of the Canadian Bar Association, a judge nominated by the chief justice of the province or territory and an attorney general or minister of justice from the province or territory.

The remaining three members of each committee will represent the general public, and can come from the legal profession but do not have to. They will be appointed by the federal government. 

"The minister of justice will nominate three members from the general public and we are making applications available not only for the judges but for the judicial advisory committees available online for individuals to put their names forward," Wilson-Raybould told reporters outside the House of Commons.

Judicial members of the committees will also regain the right to vote for applicants they want to recommend, and committees and will once again be able to give special recognition to outstanding candidates.

'Unfinished business'

JAC members will be more representative of Canada's diversity and once selected they will be asked to consider judicial candidates' ethnicity, Indigenous status, sexual orientation, gender identity or physical disability. 

Lorne Sossin, dean and professor at York University's Osgoode Hall law school welcomes the collection of demographic data about judges as well as the addition of members of the public to the JACs.

Yet he said he's underwhelmed by the minister's changes to the judicial selection process.

"The puzzle around these changes is really what took so long and if you're going to take a year, why aren't there more substantial changes," said Lorne Sossin, dean and professor at York University's Osgoode Hall law school.

"The 24 appointments will put a dent in the vacancies but we know there are somewhere in the neighbourhood of triple that number that are there to be filled, so lots of unfinished business for this government," Sossin added. 

No more new judges until 2017

Wilson-Raybould said applicants for the JACs will have until Nov. 17 to submit their information and that she hopes to be in a position to appoint even more judges to the bench in January 2017.

"I'm hopeful that in the very early new year that we will be able to make another round of appointments," she said.

All future appointments will be made under this new selection process, excluding appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada, which are made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from a list of vetted candidates.