Alberta renames 'master in chambers' title to 'applications judge'

Chief Justice says 'master' title is not gender neutral and carries negative historical connotations

Alberta renames 'master in chambers' title to 'applications judge'

The Alberta government has renamed the “master in chambers” title to “applications judge” as part of its commitment to modernizing the justice system.

Applications judges are appointed to the Court of King’s Bench of Alberta as judicial officers. They hear and decide applications to the court, including procedural matters in civil and family cases, bankruptcy proceedings, and any other matters. The title change is part of Court of Queen’s Bench Act amendments, which took effect on September 1.

In line with the title change, applications judges should now be addressed at hearings and in correspondence as “judge” or “your honour.”

“We know that Albertans value equality, diversity, inclusivity, and innovation, and that they expect to see these values reflected in their justice system,” Court of King’s Bench Chief Justice Mary Moreau said. “So, I’m really pleased to see that our court’s recommendation to change the title of master in chambers to applications judge has been accepted by the provincial government.”

In making this change, Alberta joins jurisdictions in Zealand, Australia, and most recently Ontario, that have recognized that the “master” title is not gender neutral and carries negative historical and cultural connotations, Moreau confirmed.

“Words have the power to perpetuate outdated ideas and practices,” Moreau said. “Modernizing the titles we use in the justice system makes our justice system more inclusive and accessible to all.”

Meanwhile, master-turned-applications judge Lucille Birkett noted that the “master” title had been a part of the court since before women were allowed to practice law.

“It is an awkward title,” Birkett said. “It is not inclusive, and there are reasons individuals appearing in court find it difficult to address the person on the bench as master.”

She added that the old title failed to reflect the judicial character of their work, given that they hear and decide a broad range of urgent and procedural matters.

“The new title of applications judge will assist the public in understanding the judicial nature of our role in Alberta’s justice system,” Birkett said.

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