Former Quebec Justice minister Marc Bellemare did not hear what he wanted to in the report from Michel Bastarache into the appointment of judges in Quebec. In his report released Jan. 16, the former Supreme Court of Canada judge concluded that Bellemare was not pressured by third parties to appoint judges to the Court of Quebec. Most coverage of the report centred on how it essentially cleared Premier Jean Charest of influence peddling. Bellemare, the next day, was already claiming Bastarache was biased and that the report should have laid some blame on Charest’s shoulders. The political fallout from the report and its impact on Charest and the Quebec Liberal Party’s fortunes remain to be seen.
But whether you agree or disagree with the conclusions regarding the influence, or lack thereof, of political bagmen on the appointment of judges, Bastarache’s report went on to discuss and address the real problems inherent in the judicial appointments process in the province.
For a start, he said the process lacks transparency at all steps and is also fairly inefficient, with sometimes hundreds of candidates interviewed for a single opening. “The evidence reveals that there are no standards governing the operation of the selection committees. The choice of members of the public to sit on selection committees is not subject to any guidelines, nor is any training provided for them. The information asked of the candidates has not been standardized. Concerns regarding the confidentiality of the selection committees’ reports have also been raised.”
The second stage, Bastarache noted, is particularly “vulnerable to all manner of interventions and influence.”
Even though the $6-million commission didn’t provide a magic pill for either Charest or Bellemare, the money was not totally wasted if the province puts into play some of the 25 recommendations offered up by Bastarache to improve the process for selecting judges for Quebec’s provincial and municipal courts. They include:
• Create a secretariat for judicial selection and appointment that does not answer to the Department of Justice.
• Include members of the public on the judicial selection committee.
• Create a standing selection committee.
• Train members of the standing selection committee on interviewing techniques, criteria for evaluating applications, the structure of the courts, and the judicial function.
• Standardize the application process as well as the criteria for evaluating candidates.
• Establish a pre-selection mechanism to limit the number of candidates for each position to 15.
• The selection committee should provide three names to the Justice minister for consideration.
Bastarache also gave a series of further recommendations as to what should happen once the minister has the list from the selection committee. Importantly, he said whether the premier is involved in the final decision or not, there should be strict limits on the role played by political staff and no debate on it by the cabinet.
You can’t really argue with any of those suggestions.