The new Supreme Court of Canada chief justice Richard Wagner used a major dinner to tell attendees communication needs to improve and citizens need shorter access to justice. The remarks came during an informal Q&A with Justice Michal Fairburn of the Court of Appeal for Ontario Advocates’ End of Term dinner in Toronto. The occasion also marked the first time that journalists had been invited. Chief justice Wagner highlighted the need to connect with the public and make the law more accessible to Canadians.
Justice Fairburn’s questions covered chief justice Wagner’s Montreal childhood, his favourite sports and the recognition of Canada’s judicial system around the world. He said, Canadians take for granted democracy, the rule of law and freedom of expression, but then added, “We should not take it for granted” but must work to maintain it. An estimated 45 per cent of Canadians take their news from social media, he said, but “we need traditional media” as well for information. And, he noted that the Supreme Court “must find ways to communicate directly with the public.” One of his first initiatives after being appointed Chief Justice of Canada in December was to release summaries - called ‘Case in Brief’ - of legal decisions, written in laypeople’s language, along with the full reasons in appeals when they are posted to the Supreme Court of Canada’s website. Chief Justice Wagner explained, ‘We decided to find a way to communicate better . . . to allow people to understand’ decisions.
Shorter process needed
In addition, the Supreme Court will continue to hold an annual event to talk to the media, issue a statement from the court’s judges each year at Christmas and visit a city in Canada to hold an annual retreat, which will include meeting with local judiciary, law faculty and citizenry, he said. In 2018, that city will be Winnipeg, where Wagner suggested that Supreme Court justices may even sit with the local judges. He also said citizens have the right to a shorter process in the judicial process and it needed such reform. He believes Canada’s judiciary is probably the best trained in the world, and, he said, when he visited European and other nations, “the judges look to you. . . . We are not a great economic or military power, but we are a power for the rule of law.” At the same time, we must work to maintain that, he said.