CALGARY — The Supreme Court of Canada's chief justice says judges should not be considered unaccountable because they are appointed by the government.
Beverley McLachlin told a meeting of the Canadian Bar Association on Thursday that such an accusation is unfair and there are plenty of safeguards in place to ensure that judges remain completely fair and impartial.
"We sometimes hear that the judiciary is unaccountable because judges are appointed and because they hold office during good behaviour to the age of 75,'' McLachlin said.
"I believe that this concern is misplaced. Judges are accountable to the public every day in the duties they carry out.''
Accountability is guaranteed by open courts, reasoned decision-making and appeals, McLachlin said.
And while there must be the appearance of impartiality, it doesn't mean a judge needs to discount or disregard personal experiences, she added.
"Having judges on the bench with diverse life experiences and views is a strength.''
McLachlin shied away from any media questions related to the federal election campaign, but did comment on the latest appointment to the Supreme Court by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Justice Russell Brown of Alberta's Court of Appeal was named last month to replace Justice Marshall Rothstein.
Before he became a judge, Brown was a law professor, who blogged frequently on the University of Alberta's website between 2007 and 2012.
One of his blogs described federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau as "unspeakably awful'' and described the Canadian Bar Association as a left-wing, anti-Conservative group. He also speculated that McLachlin shared the association's bias.
"I think the Canadian public understands that intelligent, engaged lawyers and judges think about problems and may on occasion express them particularly in prior roles,'' McLachlin said.
"Justice Brown ... was an academic and part of being an academic is engaging in a vigorous debate on legal issues (and) the functioning of the courts.
"It's not surprising that someone who is engaged and potentially on the bench will have expressed such views and I have no concern about that.''
The chief justice also told reporters that more should be done to reduce costs and delays in Canada's courts. She has said in the past that the justice system risks a loss of public faith unless barriers to public access to the courts, especially for civil matters, are lowered.
"I'm finding that Canadian citizens are engaged in this process. They have responded to it and said, 'Yes, this is important. We need to ensure that our courts remain open and accessible to everyone,''' she said.
"Everyone is getting that message, so I think all of this is extremely positive. But that being said, it's a complex, difficult problem and there's a lot of work to be done.''
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