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The CJC's Slippery Slope

A review of the annual reports of the Canadian Judicial Counsel shows that the last time it published coherent statistics regarding the number of complaints received from self-represented persons was in 2001.

The 2000-2001 annual report indicates on page 12 that 83 percent of CJC complaints were filed by litigants (i.e.: not lawyers). It also states that in over 50% of the cases, the complainants were not represented by counsel in court.

'Parties to litigation were the source of 83 percent of files closed. In 64 files, the complainants were not represented by counsel; in 60 files they were represented. Of the 155 files closed, 95 percent related to judges’ conduct “on the bench,” that is, in their judicial capacity.' (quoted from CJC 2000-2001 Annual Report attached.)

While we are not told why they stopped publishing these statistics one can only guess that it is because the situation is not getting any better.

The CJC happily publishes guidelines for Judges in dealing with Unrepresented or Self-Represented Litigants. Those of us who appear in Court regularly watch as some judges try very hard to accommodate even the most difficult self-represented people and mostly bend over backwards to assist them. Often good-souled lawyers will volunteer, on the spot, to assist by speaking privately with a self-represented person.

And generally this system is working, albeit slowly and often to the frustration of all concerned.

However even though the CJC publishes guidelines and encourages such treatment of self represented litigants in Court it is odd that it does not accept its own wisdom. A self represented person who complains to the CJC gets no help at all. Never mind that the judicial system and the work that Judges do is complicated and mostly unfathomable to the average Canadian the CJC is not going to enlighten anyone who has been wronged by a Judge.

Never mind that the Judge acted improperly because if your complaint is incomplete, badly written, and or focused then you will probably be rejected. Or maybe if you were able to figure out some of the documents and explanations that the CJC needs to consider it will not help you even if you miss something. You will be rejected and you may never know why.

In a time when the Supreme Court of Canada is insisting more and more on transparency the CJC is doing the opposite: it won’t publish its statistics nor many of its decisions so we are left in the dark.

This gem from a recent letter rejecting a complaint says it all: “your allegations are either outside of the jurisdiction of the Council to review or they do not warrant further consideration by the Council pursuant to its mandate under the CJC” and the VCJC then goes on to say the complaint may have been rejected because Judge’s actions were not ‘conduct’ .

In French the CJC says it was not related to ‘bonne conduit” whatever that means. The CJC does not seem to be sure what it means so publishes no definitions or explanations. I guess to them they know it when they see it but we Canadians are not to know!

Why doesn’t the CJC publish statistics these days? Why doesn’t it at least try to give us a hint of what is and what is not bonne conduit?

I expect that the vast majority of complaints these days come from people who are unrepresented before the CJC. Who has money to pay a lawyer to assist them? Which lawyers would dare to assist them to complain?

And the slippery slope is probably more and more that the complainers receive the same vague response.

So what is the solution? Easy: one of the CJC pamphlets says that they can appoint an independent investigator to obtain and summarize all of the facts in a coherent and easy to understand report. If the CJC would start to do that now we could start climbing back up that slippery slope and maybe Canadians would be more comfortable that they were being taken seriously.