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Comment: Judges' salaries are set by an independent commission

Judges must be independent of government
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The salaries of provincial court judges in B.C. are set based on a report from a five-member commission. CINDY GOODMAN, NORTH SHORE NEWS

A commentary by the president of the B.C. branch of the Canadian Bar ­Association.

I am responding to the Jan. 12 editorial, “Judges’ salaries should not be above the law,” to help the public understand the process that goes into determining Provincial Court judges’ salaries and to explain why the recent increase was warranted.

Judges make decisions that affect our lives, our livelihoods and, in some cases, our freedom. Canadians have a constitutional right to have their legal disputes or issues decided by independent judges who can decide cases impartially and without interference from anyone, especially government. For judges to be independent from government, the Supreme Court of Canada determined that their salaries would be set by an independent non-political process.

Like all other provinces and the federal government, British Columbia sets compensation for provincial court judges through an independent and objective commission called the Judicial Compensation Commission. The composition of this commission and the process it is required to follow are set out in
provincial legislation.

The most recent commission included two people appointed by government and two chosen by the chief judge. By law, each party must select one non-lawyer to be on the Commission, resulting in the appointments of an experienced human resources professional, a senior accountant, and two highly regarded lawyers. Those four members then selected the fifth member and chair: a retired Supreme Court of B.C. justice who was also a former dean of the UBC law school. The commission was experienced, qualified and independent from both government and the courts.

The commission did a considerable amount of work before making their recommendations on judges’ compensation. It held hearings and received written arguments from the government, the Provincial Court Judges Association, the chief judge, and other organizations. The Commission considered all the
evidence and arguments, deliberated, and prepared a 100-page report setting out its recommendations, which the government chose not to dispute.

The government rejected the independent commission’s recommendations in the previous four reviews. As a result, our provincial court judges were among the lowest paid in all courts across the country, despite British Columbia being one of the most expensive places to live. Unlike other public servants, judges cannot negotiate with government or even go on strike. When they disagreed with the government’s decision, their only option was to go to court. 

British Columbians are fortunate to be served by skilled, highly competent and hard-working judges. With their judicial salaries now aligned with those of judges across Canada, the Provincial Court can continue to attract the most exceptional and capable candidates from diverse backgrounds, while critically maintaining their independence from government or any other influence. This can only make for a stronger justice system for all British Columbians.

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