The Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 10, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

New guidelines on ethical dos, don’ts for retired judges coming next year

The post-retirement contributions of Supreme Court judges is under scrutiny

Those who sit on the bench can soon expect extra guidance on what they should — and should not — be doing after retirement, according to organizations that oversee lawyers and judges.

The post-retirement contributions of Supreme Court judges is under scrutiny after the federal ethics watchdog’s report on the SNC-Lavalin scandal revealed how their opinions were sought after by players on all sides of a dispute at the heart of the Liberal government.

That included retired chief justice Beverley McLachlin. Senior aides in the Prime Minister’s Office urged Jody Wilson-Raybould, who was attorney general at the time, to ask McLachlin for advice on the legality of intervening in the case against the Montreal engineering giant.

They did not tell her that both SNC and a senior PMO adviser had already had preliminary talks with McLachlin about providing her opinion, or acting as a mediator between SNC and the public prosecutor over entering into a remediation agreement. The report said McLachlin, who did not respond to a request for comment Thursday, had expressed her willingness to meet with Wilson-Raybould, but had reservations about it.

The report also noted that former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci, who was legal council for SNC-Lavalin, wrote and circulated to government an analysis on the legality of overturning the public prosecutor’s refusal to negotiate a remediation agreement with the company. And he solicited a second legal opinion on the matter from yet another former Supreme Court justice, John Major.

ALSO READ: Judges on Twitter? Ethical guidance for those on the bench under review

The Canadian Judicial Council and the Federation of Law Societies have been working together on updating the ethical principles for judges, including a look at their careers after retirement.

“Judges, like all of us, are experiencing a greater life expectancy and quality of life,” Johanna Laporte, spokeswoman for the Canadian Judicial Council, wrote in a statement.

“Some are retiring early,” she said. “This means that many former judges want to continue to contribute to society in a meaningful way.”

Individual courts and provincial law societies already have rules for former judges who return to legal careers, such as a cooling-off period before they can appear in court.

The new guidelines could go further.

Laporte said a majority of those who participated in public consultations on the issue agreed judges should not argue a case or appear in court, with even more saying retired judges should not be able to leverage their former position to gain a business advantage.

“(We) have been discussing how ethical principles can best complement the rules,” wrote Laporte, who expects the revised guidelines to be published next year.

The Federation of Law Societies issued a statement saying it has also consulted on possible amendments that “would impose additional restrictions and obligations on retired judges who return to the practice of law.”

Michael Spratt, an Ottawa-based criminal defence lawyer, said it could be tricky to come up with rules that still allow retired judges some leeway in sharing their expertise.

“I think that there is a risk in being overly restrictive in rules about what judicial actors can do,” he said. “We might be losing good applicants to the bench and we might also be depriving ourselves of some very, very good expertise that can provide a real benefit.”

Still, Spratt said he was concerned by the extent to which the report revealed the PMO was trying to involve retired Supreme Court judges to help them persuade Wilson-Raybould.

“I think that the easiest solution is for governments to constrain themselves and to stop using judges, or former judges, as political pawns,” he said.

“Using judges in this way, especially when there are partisan political interests at stake, risks eroding public trust in a very important pillar of our democracy, and that is the judiciary,” said Spratt, whose mother-in-law, Louise Arbour, is also a retired Supreme Court justice.

“If the public thinks that judges can be bought or swayed, even if they’re retired, that might erode important aspects of our democracy and reduce confidence in those institutions,” he said.

Wilson-Raybould, who had hired former Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell to advise her on what she could say publicly about the SNC-Lavalin controversy, said her biggest issue with the PMO involving other retired judges is that she was kept in the dark.

“Governments, public officials are at liberty to seek advice from people, retired justices included. I am not going to pass judgment on whether it was proper. It happens,” she said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“What I feel is difficult to understand or potentially, I don’t want to use the word strange but I will, is that this happened unbeknownst to the attorney general of Canada,” she said.

— With files from Kristy Kirkup

Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Métis citizenship questions can be answered at open house in Chilliwack

Chilliwack Métis Association to host open house and Genealogy Day Workshop on Saturday, February 22

Sabah Fadai leads mixed martial arts resurrection in Chilliwack

Long considered an outlaw sport with a wild west mentality, MMA is gaining legitimacy.

Keeping kids busy with spring break camps and events in Chilliwack

Here’s a handy list of events and classes for kids being offered in Chilliwack March 16 to 27

Local developer’s Abbotsford homes shortlisted for two national housing awards

Algra Bros. won in 2014 for Garrison Crossing brownstones in Chilliwack

VIDEO: Body discovered in aftermath of Hope apartment fire

RCMP can’t confirm cause of death yet, but have ruled out foul play

Pipeline dispute: Tories put no-confidence motion on House of Commons agenda

Conservatives say they have no confidence in the Trudeau government to end the rail blockades

B.C.’s soda drink tax will help kids lose weight, improve health, says doctor

Dr. Tom Warshawski says studies show sugary drinks contribute to obesity

A&W employees in Ladysmith get all-inclusive vacation for 10 years of service

Kelly Frenchy, Katherine Aleck, and Muriel Jack are headed on all-expenses-paid vacations

B.C. mom’s complaint about ‘R word’ in children’s ministry email sparks review

In 2020, the ‘R’ word shouldn’t be used, Sue Robins says

B.C., federal ministers plead for meeting Wet’suwet’en dissidents

Scott Fraser, Carolyn Bennett says they can be in Smithers Thursday

UPDATE: TransLink gets injunction ahead of pipeline, Indigenous rights protest

The protest rally is in opposition to the Coastal GasLink and Trans Mountain pipeline projects

Province shows no interest in proposed highway between Alberta and B.C.

Province says it will instead focus on expanding the Kicking Horse Canyon to four lanes

Mysterious bang booms over Sumas Mountain once again

Police unsure of source, quarry companies say, ‘not us’

First case of COVID-19 in B.C. has fully recovered, health officer says

Three other cases are symptom-free and expected to test negative soon

Most Read