12/12/2012 01:11 EST | Updated 02/11/2013 05:12 EST

New SCOC justice Wagner says it's crucial for people to trust judicial system

OTTAWA - Canada's newest Supreme Court justice says democracy is at stake if the public no longer has trust in the judicial system.

Justice Richard Wagner said in an interview with The Canadian Press that court decisions are being examined and commented upon in the media as never before.

He said the credibility of the justice system is put at risk if its decisions are criticized without being properly explained. He said lawyers, media and governments all have a duty to educate the public.

Wagner lamented the loss of public confidence he's seen in the judiciary over the years, insisting the system actually functions well.

He feared that a drop in confidence could lead to a "parallel justice system" in the country.

"In Quebec, the number of files in litigation is decreasing year after year and there is a reason for this,'' he said. ''I hope it is not because people no longer believe in the justice system because if this is the case, this is the beginning of the end.

"When people stop appearing before the courts, it will create a parallel justice system and our democracy will be on the line.

''These seem like big words but this is very real, it's not fiction. Little by little, these attitudes are created and they perpetuate themselves and they can lead to results that aren't good for society in terms of democracy.''

Cases can be won or lost but he said there is no advantage to having the credibility of the justice system diminished.

Wagner was asked about the uproar that surrounded the case of Guy Turcotte, who was found not criminally responsible after killing his two children in 2009 before being remanded to psychiatric care.

That verdict was roundly blasted by some members of the public who held demonstrations.

Wagner said it would have been helpful to explain how and why such a decision is reached and to remind people that there are mechanisms to appeal them.

With more information, he said, "I think (Quebecers) would have accepted not the result but the idea it could be reached."

The controversial Turcotte case took another twist Wednesday, after the judge had already made his remarks. Turcotte was granted his release by a psychiatric institute where he had been staying since the jury decision a year ago.

If he abides by a series of conditions, he will have been freed 46 months after stabbing his children 46 times. An appeal attempt is pending in the case.

While Wagner, 55, doesn't believe judges should justify their decisions in public or go on TV talk shows, he says they can explain how the system works.

"Tell citizens how it functions," said Wagner, who agreed to be interviewed, among other reasons, in an effort to demystify the court system. "It works with the evolution of society and its values. We don't live in isolation. It evolves with society."

Wagner's father, Claude, was a noted Quebec and federal politician who had a "law and order" reputation when he was provincial justice minister. He ran unsuccessfully for leader of the provincial Liberals and federal Conservatives and was appointed to the Senate by then-prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau in 1978.

Wagner, who sat as a Conservative, died of cancer the next year at age 54.

His son, who was a Quebec judge before his appointment to the high court, stressed the importance of the impartiality and the independence of the court.

He did not want to be drawn into discussing hot-button issues such as mandatory minimum sentences and the need for bilingual Supreme Court justices.

Wagner apologized for not answering questions on political issues although he said he has plenty of opinions.

"Politics should not interfere in the judiciary and the judiciary should not interfere in political matters," he said.