Federally appointed judges will be receiving a salary increase after bill C-17, an act amending the Judges Act, passed in mid-December, but some members of the judiciary are concerned with the way the process was handled.
Royal assent for the bill comes more than two and a half years after the release of the 2004 Report of the Judicial Compensation and Benefits Commission, an independent commission established under the Judges Act every four years to “enquire into the adequacy of the salaries and benefits of the federally appointed judiciary.”
The commission originally submitted its report and recommendations to the government in May 2004, and the government response to the report was issued later that year.
Delays in implementing the commission’s recommendations have been partially attributed to this year’s federal election, which meant that bill C-51, the previous government’s response to the commission’s report died on the order paper when Parliament was dissolved in November 2005.
The commission’s report originally called for a 10.8-per-cent increase in judges salaries, however, earlier this year, the Tory government, in bill C-17, proposed a 7.25-per-cent increase, retroactive to April 1, 2004, with the salaries increasing annually based on a statutory indexing formula.
Justice John Vertes, president of the Canadian Superior Courts Judges Association told Law Times that while the organization is pleased that the bill has finally been implemented after two and a half years, he adds that they are frustrated and disappointed with the way the matter has been handled.
“These sort of delays undermine the integrity of the quadrennial commission process, and the fact that the
previous government didn’t see fit to move the legislation forward in a timely manner and then it died on the order paper when the last election was called I think reveals a lack of seriousness with which Parliament addresses these issues.
“We also take issue with the right of the government to take a ‘second kick’ at the commission’s recommendations,” he added.
Vertes noted that under the Judges Act, once the commission makes its recommendations, the minister of Justice has six months to respond, which former minister Irwin Cotler did, accepting the commission’s recommendations prior to the election, with the exception of one on representational costs. Following the election, the current minister, Vic Toews, made his response to the recommendations as well, accepting the commission’s recommendations with the exception of the salary proposal.
“Our position is that the statute does not contemplate a second response, no matter if the government changes or not. This is again, we think, a very dangerous precedent, because it shows disrespect for the system, for the process, and a disregard for the clear wording of the legislation,” said Vertes.
“Its not the dollars and cents that concern us as much as the process problems that have been encountered over the last two and a half years,” he said.
Other changes resulting from the bill C-17 include closing the gap between judges’ eligibility for a full annuity and their ability to select supernumerary status, as well as recommendations for the division of a judicial annuity after a conjugal breakdown.
In keeping with its quadrennial mandate, a new judicial compensation and benefits commission process is set to begin in 2007.