(An editorial comment by Zygmunt M. Gorski)
Few structures in society are as important as a reliable system of justice. In the end, that reliability rests on the wisdom, honesty, independence and foresight of a very few individuals whom we call judges. However it also rests upon others working within it and under the scrutiny of those judges. Over a number of years I have appeared as an expert witness where, on rare occasions, but disturbingly too many, the actions of members of the court and those appearing before a court, have been, to use the least offensive term, inappropriate. At no point or time could I see a remedy to this because the proper functioning of the courts was not under my control or even my influence. Only yesterday if I had raised my concerns my words would be used at my next court appearance by an opposing lawyer as an indication of my bias and perhaps even my contempt of the court. It is not surprising how often criticisms that could be beneficial to the functioning of the courts never see the light of day in this environment.
However, today is a new day. The new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada made an important comment that few others could make. Chief Justice Richard Wagner acknowledged that “the system for dealing with complaints of serious misconduct by judges needs an overhaul” (Canadian Press). He also reportedly pointed out “It has become increasingly evident that our procedures for dealing with serious judicial conduct complaints are outmoded, slow and opaque”. He also indicated “While Canadians expect transparency and accountability, we continue to operate under 1970s models of judicial administration”.
Transparency is a very large word. Without it many inappropriate actions are capable of being hidden. I do not expect that all the problems of the courtroom can be corrected via some magical potion. And not all those problems can be attributed to judges. However transparency is the one ingredient that can play a very large role in exposing those problems and therefore preventing them. I am hopeful that Chief Justice Wagner can achieve this one important change.
I am obligated to attend trials and be an unbiased reporter of truthful facts. I understand that duty clearly and whatever else takes place in a courtroom will not sway me from that commitment. It would make my work easier however if the courtroom became less of an uncontrolled battleground of twisted reasoning, as I have sometimes had the misfortune to observe. In the present system that exists two opposing sides often make ridiculous pronouncements. It not only requires the judge’s intelligence to cut through this maze, but it also requires a focus on careful listening, and a non-egotistical and non-prejudicial temperament to correctly guide the court to justice. I cannot say that I have always seen this happen.