Those who sit on the bench can soon expect extra guidance on what they should — and should not — be doing after retirement, according to organizations that oversee lawyers and judges.
The post-retirement contributions of Supreme Court judges is under scrutiny after the federal ethics watchdog’s report on the SNC-Lavalin scandal revealed how their opinions were sought after by players on all sides of a dispute at the heart of the Liberal government.
That included retired chief justice Beverley McLachlin. Senior aides in the Prime Minister’s Office urged Jody Wilson-Raybould, who was attorney general at the time, to ask McLachlin for advice on the legality of intervening in the case against the Montreal engineering giant.
Michael Spratt, an Ottawa-based criminal defence lawyer, said it could be tricky to come up with rules that still allow retired judges some leeway in sharing their expertise.
“I think that there is a risk in being overly restrictive in rules about what judicial actors can do,” he said. “We might be losing good applicants to the bench and we might also be depriving ourselves of some very, very good expertise that can provide a real benefit.”
Still, Spratt said he was concerned by the extent to which the report revealed the PMO was trying to involve retired Supreme Court judges to help them persuade Wilson-Raybould.
“I think that the easiest solution is for governments to constrain themselves and to stop using judges, or former judges, as political pawns,” he said.
“Using judges in this way, especially when there are partisan political interests at stake, risks eroding public trust in a very important pillar of our democracy, and that is the judiciary,” said Spratt, whose mother-in-law, Louise Arbour, is also a retired Supreme Court justice.
Read Joanna Smith’s full article: National Post