Changes to judicial application form a step towards more diversity on the bench

Changes to judicial application form a step towards more diversity on the bench
Renu Mandhane, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, says trust in the justice system requires a judiciary that reflects the community.
Ontario recently announced the Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee will be taking steps to increase diversity in the judiciary, including recruiting more judges from indigenous communities.

“Trust in the justice system requires a judiciary that reflects the community,” Renu Mandhane, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission told Legal Feeds.  

The JAAC is bringing in the OHRC to strengthen member training and education in the hopes of addressing any systemic barriers — such as unconscious bias — that may exist in the recruitment process.

Mandhane says the commission will consult with the JAAC to “ensure that they are able to effectively recruit a diversity of new judges.”

“We are pleased to provide our expertise to help break down systemic barriers in the legal profession,” she adds.

The JAAC — which is comprised of seven members appointed by Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, two judges appointed by the chief justice of the Ontario Court of Justice, one member appointed by the Ontario Judicial Council and three members from the legal community appointed by the Law Society of Upper Canada, Ontario Bar Association and the County and District Law Presidents’ Association — is also working with the Ontario Court of Justice and the Ministry of the Attorney General to achieve its increased diversity goal.

Changes have been made to the judicial application form to give applicants the options to self-identify as belonging to a racialized community, an ethnic or cultural group, as having a disability, as indigenous and as LGBTQ2+.

The increased options on the form are one of the ways the province is attempting to improve gender balance and promote greater diversity in appointments to the Ontario Court of Justice, stated the news release.

Other steps being taken by the JAAC include amped up outreach to law associations and students to access a wider audience, including information sessions and advertising; participating in roundtables with representatives from the bar and federal government to encourage increased diversity in federal and provincial appointments; and collecting judicial applicants’ and new appointments’ race-based data in order to strengthen future reporting on diversity.

“One of Ontario’s greatest strengths is its diversity,” Naqvi said in the release. “It is important that this diversity be reflected in our judiciary — to the benefit of our entire justice system and the communities it serves.”

Naqvi called the changes a way to build a “more accessible and modern justice system” that is better able to respond to the needs of all Ontarians.

By the fall, the Justices of the Peace Appointments Advisory Committee will amend its justice of the peace application form to also allow applicants the same range of options to self-identify. Currently, the form includes the option to self-identify as indigenous. Of
recent appointments on June 30 and July 28, seven of the 38 new justices of the peace are indigenous peoples.

The changes build on the work of the province’s three-year anti-racism strategic plan, which is based on a report released in March. Ontario identified ways to take proactive steps to battle existing systemic racism and prevent it in future through changes to government programs, services and decision-making, including such changes as those recently made to the judicial application process.

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