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Top court judges trying out unofficial break

Chief justice dismisses concerns of judicial burnout during CBA meeting
|Written By Michael McKiernan

VANCOUVER — Canada’s top judge dismissed concerns of judicial burnout as the Supreme Court of Canada prepares to replace its third member in less than a year.

Two of the retirements came well ahead of the mandatory retirement age of 75: Louise Charron left last year at the age of 60 after seven years on the top court, while Marie Deschamps stepped down last week at the age of 59, on the 10th anniversary of her appointment.

“I don’t think anyone is burning out, but it is a tough job,” Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin told reporters at the Canadian Bar Association’s annual conference in Vancouver. “There are many who stay longer and if you look back over the history of the court you will find that even in days when the workload perhaps wasn’t as heavy as it is now, that some people stayed shorter, some people stayed longer. I don’t think we’re seeing anything like a mass exodus.”

McLachlin revealed the nation’s top judges are laying off the e-mail this month, avoiding circulation of draft reasons for decisions on reserve, in an effort to establish an unofficial holiday period.

“I think it’s a good thing to get a psychological break. We’re trying it,” McLachlin said. “It means the work will all be there in September, and we’ll have to see whether people really feel it worked well or not.”

But she said a more formal summer break like the ones enjoyed by judges at the U.S. and U.K. Supreme Courts is simply not practical in Canada because of a combination of the hearing load, translation time, and other factors.

“We stop hearing cases in June. There is no way we can get those cases out by the end of June and do the job we have to do on them,” she noted.

McLachlin also poured cold water on the idea of sabbaticals (as suggesed in by Charron in an interview with Canadian Lawyer) to allow Supreme Court judges a chance to recharge their batteries, explaining that litigants may factor the absence of certain judges into a decision on whether to appeal.

“It would diminish the certainty of, and confidence of people in, the court. We have never sat in panels in the supreme court because we believe that the opinion of every justice named to that court counts, and we’re named from different regions,” she said. “There are many complexities to suggesting that a judge of the court should be entitled to go away for six months or a year, and probably most judges wouldn’t want to do it.”

Earlier, McLachlin had addressed the CBA council in the city where she spent much of her early career as a lawyer and judge, using the occasion to talk commend the CBA for its involvement in a number of access to justice projects .

“I have spoken about how access to justice on both the civil side and the criminal side is the most pressing problem facing our justice system. That remains the case today,” she said.


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