Alberta’s judges comp committee seeking public input

A commission to set the compensation for Alberta’s judiciary is seeking input from the public.

The Judicial Compensation Commission, which was formed in 2013, announced this week it has scheduled a hearing Oct. 7-10 at the Edmonton Law Courts to gather oral submissions. Written submissions can also be sent to the commission by Sept. 5.

Julie Siddons, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice, said the commission will be looking at the appropriate level of salaries, pension benefits, and allowances for judges, as well as any other issues that are brought forward.

The commission is composed of chairman John Moreau, Andrew Sims, who sat on the 2009 commission, and Damon Bailey. Moreau and Sims are both arbitrators and Bailey is a labour and employment lawyer.These provincial commissions have to meet once every three to five years. Alberta’s last compensation committee was formed in 2009.

Five compensation committees have submitted reports since 1998, with each one recommending salary increases for judges. The 2009 commission set out a salary for puisne judges at $255,000 a year, a $35,000 increase from 2006. Judges also received additional increases tied to inflation every year.

The committee is a result of a landmark Supreme Court of Canada reference in 1997 that set out that the provinces had to set up independent bodies to determine the salaries and benefits of judges. The Supreme Court determined in order to maintain the independence of the judiciary, provincial governments could not set the compensation of judges as they do with other government employees.

“The salaries of provincial court judges can be reduced, increased, or frozen, either as part of an overall economic measure which affects the salaries of all or some persons who are remunerated from public funds, or as a part of a measure which is directed at provincial court judges as a class,” wrote Antonio Lamer, who was chief justice at the time.

“However, any changes to or freezes in judicial remuneration require prior recourse to a special process, which is independent, effective and objective, for determining judicial remuneration, to avoid the possibility of, or the appearance of, political interference through economic manipulation.”

The commission’s recommendations are non-binding, but have to be seriously considered by the government. If the government rejects the commission’s report, it has to publicly provide reasons why it is doing so, or else face potential lawsuits.

The final report will be submitted to the Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General on Feb. 17, 2015.

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