Whether Canadian judges should be active on Twitter, Facebook or other social media and what involvement they should have in community life are among issues under a review that aims to modernize ethical guidance for those on the bench. (Black Press Media file photo)

Judges on Twitter? Ethical guidance for those on the bench under review

Canadian judges involvement in community life are among issues under review

Whether Canadian judges should be active on Twitter, Facebook or other social media and what involvement they should have in community life are among issues under a review that aims to modernize ethical guidance for those on the bench.

As part of the first such update in 20 years, the body that regulates judicial conduct has launched consultations as a way to gauge public sentiment on acceptable conduct for federally appointed judges as it seeks to update and streamline its guide: “Ethical Principles for Judges.”

“As society evolves, so do the ethical issues that judges sometimes face,” Chief Justice Richard Wagner said in a statement.

While bedrock principles for judges such as integrity, independence and impartiality are not up for debate, the review focuses on six themes — some new, some in need of updating: Social media, public engagement, post-retirement, self-represented litigants, case management, settlement conferences and judicial mediation, and professional development.

READ MORE: Extend freedom of information law to B.C. legislature, watchdogs say

“The work of judges has changed. Society has evolved. New and emerging ethical questions are before us,” the Canadian Judicial Council says in a background paper. “Reflecting this changing environment, council is reviewing the current ethical principles to ensure they continue to provide guidance for judges in a manner that reflects evolving public expectations.”

Public feedback is requested by way of an online survey in which respondents are asked to agree or disagree with a series of statements such as: “Judges should not identify themselves as judges on social media” or “Judges should not use social media to ‘like,’ ‘friend’ or ‘share’ about matters that could come before the courts, generate negative debates (political or others) or be the subject of controversy.”

Underlying many of the questions is to what extent judges should be socially reclusive and whether it’s fair or even desirable to demand a judiciary that is isolated and aloof from the kind of active if ordinary social engagement most Canadians take for granted.

“Judges, of course, have private lives and should enjoy, as much as possible, the rights and freedoms of citizens generally,” the guide states. ”Moreover, an out of touch judge is less likely to be effective.”

The current document makes it clear that its aim is to provide ethical guidance and “shall not be used as a code or a list of prohibited behaviours.”

However, breaches could lead to disciplinary consequences under the Judges Act, up to and including the rare step of being forced from the bench. In November, for example, the council rapped a well respected Ontario Superior Court justice for accepting a temporary dean’s posting at an Indigenous law school — the kind of dilemma the revised guide should help to resolve. The matter, still before the courts, provoked angry criticism of the judicial council itself.

Mixing personal and public interests can also backfire, such as in the case of Frank Newbould, who resigned as a judge under a cloud over his participation at a community meeting to consider a land-claim settlement in an area in which he had a cottage.

“To an increasing degree, judges engage with the wider community to inform and educate the public about the role of the judiciary in maintaining the rule of law, and to participate in opportunities that allow them to become better informed about the communities they serve,” the council says in its background paper. “This theme considers the ethical challenges that this engagement presents.”

One emerging area of concern is the growing number of judges who return to law practice after retirement from the bench. That raises questions about whether they should be allowed to pursue job opportunities before retiring, or use their former position to further a post-bench business career. Another survey question asks respondents to express views on the statement: “In general, former judges should not argue a case or appear in court.”

The internet age also makes it easy for judges, like anyone else, to access information online, raising the question of whether they should avoid looking for material relevant to a matter before them.

Neither the Canadian Superior Courts Judges Association nor the judges section of the Canadian Bar Association was willing to discuss the review.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

John Horgan promises action after fatal mid-Island bus crash

Premier cites students, local Indigneous community as reason to repair the road

BCHL: Alberni Valley Bulldogs rally for the win with five goals in third period

Port Alberni team has won two games in a row at home

Forestry watchdog warned B.C. government about Bamfield Road in 2008

Ombudsman’s specific concerns re-surface in wake of fatal bus crash

Swedish visitors celebrate steam donkey at McLean Mill—without the steam

Volunteers celebrate 90th birthday of mill’s vintage steam donkey

Bus crash survivor petitions Justin Trudeau to fix road where classmates died

UVic student’s petition well over halfway to 5k signature goal

VIDEO: Trudeau asks Canada to look to current, not past, actions on race

Liberal leader says he never spoke about the racist photo because he was embarrassed

Horvat paces Canucks to 6-1 pre-season win over Oilers

Vancouver improves to 3-1 in NHL exhibition action

Legislature gifts, clothing, travel need better control, B.C. auditor says

Audit follows suspensions of managers by Speaker Darryl Plecas

‘Really disturbing:’ Trudeau’s racist photos worry B.C. First Nation chief

Wet’suwet’en Chief concerned the photos will sow fear in Indigenous communities

‘Unacceptable’: What politicians have to say about Trudeau in blackface

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi: ‘When I saw that picture last night, certainly it was a sucker-punch’

‘He’s trying to kill me’: Victoria police commandeer boats to reach screaming woman

No charges laid and civilians to be awarded honours after incident on Gorge Waterway

Island contestant competes on Great Canadian Baking Show

Andrea Nauta auditioned for the show before but was lucky second time around

VIDEO: B.C. man accused of assaulting sex worker loses temper in interrogation

Defence lawyer says statements made by accused Curtis Sagmoen should be deemed inadmissible

Teens charged in stabbing death of B.C. man in strip mall parking lot

Two youths, aged 15 and 16, charged in Aug. 16 killing of South Surrey’s Paul Prestbakmo

Most Read