Beyond the Justice Camp Debacle: When the Public Asks Judges to be Accountable

Beyond the Justice Camp Debacle: When the Public Asks Judges to be Accountable

Mr Justice Camp faces widespread criticism for his comments to a sexual assault victim (while sitting in the Alberta Provincial Court) about the need to keep her knees together and deploy other body contortions in order to escape her assailant – whom he then acquitted (this decision was overturned on appeal).

The Justice Camp story has been prominent in the news for the last 10 days. It has led to a hasty announcement that Justice Camp would be removed from sexual assault cases in the Federal Court (where he was promoted earlier this year).

While we await a final outcome, the Justice Camp story highlights the need for a process of accountability to ensure that these kinds of appalling remarks are not uttered with impunity in our courtrooms by any judges.

I applaud the actions of my colleagues at Dalhousie University and University of Calgary in bringing forward and making public a complaint against Justice Camp to the Canadian Judicial Council (CJC).

But there are some wider lessons here.

Law professors have powers and privileges that other citizen-complaints – represented litigants or self-represented litigants – do not possess. Including both their overall credibility and their access to media attention when they released their CJC complaint to the press.

Citizen-complainants write to the CJC all the time – in excess of 500 complaints a year.

We have no way of knowing how high this number would be if the public felt that there was a real chance that their complaint would be seriously considered by a judicial oversight body composed of judges– or if it included those who forgo a formal complaint because of their concern that it may jeopardize their ongoing legal matter.

And then, there is the problem of what happens to the 500 complaints…[1]

  • One third of these are dismissed as crossing the line between “conduct” and “outcome”. These receive “mandate letters” in reply, meaning “we cannot help you”.

Law professors understand that the CJC cannot review judicial decisions, or investigate any complaints that imply criticism of decision-making. Does the public know this?

And even those people who are aware of this (sometimes fine) distinction face the difficulty of writing a complaint which avoids any reference to the impact of the conduct being complained about – for example, rudeness, dismissiveness, or the appearance of bias – on judicial decision-making.

Sometimes those types of behavior get in the way of a judge hearing a case fully and taking everyone’s point of view seriously.

  • A further one third of the complaints received are deemed either “irrational”, or classified as unnecessary to respond to.

This leaves one third of the original 500 or so complaints that will be investigated by a Review Panel of judges. What happens to them?

  • Just 2 of 176 complaints investigated from 2011 – 2014 were upheld (about 1%)[2]

The current complaints system at the Canadian Judicial Council is without credibility. The CJC acts as a club to protect judges from complaints, not as an investigative body.

Public confidence in the judiciary is chronically damaged as a result.

Of course, we need our judges to be independent and they should not have to justify their decisions to the CJC. But that should not mean that they are not accountable for how they speak to and treat those appearing before them in court.

The core of most of the (frequent) complaints I hear about judges from litigants are not about judges making particular decisions. And they are not the appalling misogyny of comments like those made by Justice Camp. Most are complaints about a lack of basic courtesy – rudeness, heavy-handedness, what feels like bullying behaviour, and insulting attitudes.

I know that those judges who treat everyone in their courtroom with respect, patience and professionalism are as appalled as I am at the behavior of some of their colleagues. 

I usually advise litigants not to waste their time bringing a complaint to the CJC. They will invest a lot of effort, will wait months for a response (did I mention that the average time the CJC takes to respond to correspondence – including my own – is 6 months?) and will almost certainly – given the current rate of success for complaints – be dissatisfied with the result.

Three suggestions for the CJC

  • The CJC needs public representatives who participate in the oversight of judicial conduct.
  • The CJC needs a transparent and user-friendly process that takes every complaint seriously.
  • The CJC needs to commit to real accountability, which aims to enhance trust between the public and the judiciary, not to damage it yet further.

[1] These figures from the CJC annual reports, available at https://www.cjc-ccm.gc.ca

[2] I reviewed 2011-2014 decisions as reported on the CJC website last year (the website has since changed and these decisions have been replaced with a “sample”).

 

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Comments (12)

  • Larry E Doucet Reply

    As long as we have a one man judge that was once a lawyer and then that judge has to make money in return there going to be a lot of corruption as me I was wrnfully convicted kick out of my own house for the wrongdoing of others just look at my case for a good example our politicians know what going on but due to there big fat pay and big fat pensions they voted themselfs overnight they just don’t care another thing there should be s few over lookers or call them what you want to stop this kind of communism in our courts it’s money first and justice after back by guns and bullets tasers these people in our justice system only help one another Canadians are not all stupid there doing the same thing they done to the Jews in world war 11 here in Canada and our justice system is design for the very rich,change it it’s time stop covering these injustices.

    November 24, 2015 at 9:15 pm
  • Allen Reply

    Great article. Dr Julie you must be the most hated woman in legal circles. Everybody I know in legal circles is afraid of judges and with good reason.

    For too long the judiciary has held us to ransom.I think the government at all levels owe it to us as citizens to protect us from judicial abuse. CJC owes us nothing and can nor will do nothing but act in the interest of their members at all cost. When government gives so much power to any sector there must be an oversight body that is external to the sector. External should mean external and that body can never be seen as or called a stake holder of any sort with the body over which it exercise oversight powers. Provisions at the Judicial Council is no more than a sick joke. Out of the said fear though they will do all they can to not say so, both Alberta Legal Guidance and Legal Aid once canceled approval for getting me a lawyer to free my kidnapped mother from a certain nursing home that instead of giving me my mom back they hired a big law firm to fight me so they can keep her. All our complaints including for sex assault fell on deaf ears with at least 8 judges and masters in Calgary turning a blind eye and ignoring our plight despite the law that requires them to do something. My dealings with these judges and seeing them in action against other SRLs inform my conclusion that they should be subject to some reliable form of accountability. The process of appointing judges must be changed too as a matter of urgency. The general public should have much involvement in that process

    November 24, 2015 at 11:42 pm
  • Paan Alberta Reply

    Yes. This is IMHO an accurate description of the current state of affairs involving complaints against the Judiciary. I feel that notwithstanding some serious questions about Judge Camp’s comportment and decision – he has been set out to dry by rabid Feminist Lawyers. I am aware of many other cases in Family Law where the Judge behaved terribly – yet no Law Profs have called for their head because it doesn’t fit the “Rape Culture” narrative AND it mostly impacted Fathers.

    It is meant as a warning to ALL JUDGES that they must toe the Feminist line or be severely castigated. That Camp bowed so unctuously to his tormentors is pretty disgusting. He should have quit rather than agree to “Re-education Camp”. Honestly it reminds me of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

    November 28, 2015 at 3:38 pm
  • Delmer O. B. Martin Reply

    I have been an observer/participant in the legal system for many, many years. Frankly I invested quite a few hundred thousand dollars in legal fees/expenses over the years and shockingly only very recently became aware of the actual existence of the law society owning their own liability insurance company. Yes, taking a complaint to the CJC or even to the law society except for the most blatant and easily proved cases seems like a complete waste of time AND akin to a sheep inviting a pack of wolves out for dinner and having a vote to determine which meat will be eaten…The only way to persevere and be successful against the evil of the system is for 1. (a) the sheep/average people) to be woken up to the truth and then conquer the elite by causing a division (go after their finances) in their ranks first and after they are done fighting it out or (b) waiting till the other elite (non judicial elite and professionals) raise up against the legal elite and turn the system upside down and inside out! (I cannot tell yet when option (a) will occur in Canada but I believe option (b) would occur rapidly if all the average/under $60K per year people are no longer using the legal system and it is just the elite using the system. The ONLY possible way any REAL “REFORM” will happen if an overwhelming majority of our democracy force it through our politicians. “They” have divided and conquered us and this MUST be reversed! Unfortunately as a underprivileged person of our society I found out the hard way that the only way that I will be successful in the courts is to persevere at all costs.

    December 8, 2015 at 11:06 pm
  • Allen Reply

    @Delmer, you are so right about the connections and what connections we the ordinary need to make within our group of ordinary folk. I still shake my head at how politicians and government after government can look the populace in the eye and keep a straight face while having this kind of crookedness among the judiciary. To think some of these politicians still actually try to tel us what a wonderful justice system we have. something has got to give and sooner than later.

    December 15, 2015 at 4:58 pm
  • Nic Reply

    Perseverance indeed is apparently the only current viable option for the unrepresented litigant …the naive resort to the ” system ” as a last resort and expect justice or as a minimum expect that lawyers AND judges at least listen and follow the code of law ….what can one do , what recourse exists when there is flagrant evidence that even this measure is not followed ? going the ” through the politicians ” way can be compared to ” watching a casket warp ” or resorting to the useless avenue of the ” culpable helping the culpable ” .Gaining education, experience , knowledge are ways for the lay person to see the light, to understand what is at play and hopefully in the end, to get the much needed reform we agree should be effected , as is ardently advocated on : https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=%20Scrutinizing%20the%20Justice%20System

    December 15, 2015 at 5:52 pm
  • sandra olson Reply

    the only problem with perseverance is they then will eventually declare you vexatious. they do not want to hear you, or anything you are saying. the people running the judiciaL SYSTEM are rude, do not follow their own rules, and outright lie to get rid of you, no matter what we educate ourselves on, we are facing corruption. lies. and it is unending. they will hide evidence refuse to order the release of it, lie about its existence. etc etc. whatever they need to do, to continue their blantant abuse of the public, these are our judges people, and the lawyers you hire,… they are only interested in how fat your wallet is. the moment it is flat, so is your case., an issue of justice just does not interest them. our entire system is corrupt. we can knock at the door forever, they are just going to claim you are crazy. the last resort of the criminals with no defence is to personally attack the people storming the door.

    December 17, 2015 at 6:13 am
  • Delmer O. B. Martin Reply

    ADDENDUM to all the above; I am not personally acquainted with any of the complainants or any of their cases but based on 2011 statistics, 2 out of the original 500 or so complaints to the CJC actually being upheld by the CJC reveals a shocking statistic…are we really supposed to believe that only 0.4 % of complaints were worthy of action/redress? What the system must realize is that most people only actually apply for (require) justice once or twice in a lifetime and it is one thing not to receive justice but it is another scenario when one realizes that they did NOT receive anything even resembling justice. When this happens it is a life-changing event. Our modern day politically correct society avoids both telling the truth and seeking the truth and the system is the ONLY thing that profits either way. This is akin to one owning all the race horses in a race and owning the race track/betting action at exactly the same time. This is the “Rothschild” method. I am reminded of what my dear long-departed father used to say, “for every big winner there has to be a lot of little losers” but quite frankly now in my own old age I prefer the verse in the old Bible at John 8:32 “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!

    December 24, 2015 at 10:55 pm
  • sandra olson Reply

    if you are suggesting, a new oversight committee for judges and the legal system i applaud. however i invite one and all to have a look at the rcmp. a few years ago there was also a demand from the public for accountability. a new oversite body was created, the mandate for cases to review was narrowed down and down. the criteria for a presence on this board changed slowly so that it was civilian, but civilians that the rcmp approved of. it is now a useless and ineffective board of review, in essence once again controlled by the rcmp and the MLAs who support the rcmp in every way. let us consider how they can agree to oversite, and the public once again, looses.

    September 19, 2016 at 11:40 pm
    • nic lal Reply

      Institutions and authorities act/perform/react as if they will never be overruled …..can they ? this reversal , in many instances , would constitute justice ….sandra is right …

      September 20, 2016 at 10:42 pm

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