How Judges are Held Accountable and by Whom

Despite their independence, judges are accountable for their actions and decisions. Hearings, trials and rulings are open to public scrutiny, so justice is seen to be done and citizens and the media can discuss and criticize the work of the courts. A judge’s ruling can be appealed to a higher court and, if an error has been made, a new trial will be ordered or the decision will be corrected.

Allegations of misconduct, if proven, can lead to a judge being subject to remedial measures, or in a very grave instance, to a recommendation that the judge be removed from office. The Canadian Judicial Council, a body of chief justices and associate chief justices from across the country, investigates complaints about the conduct of superior court judges. If the allegations are well-founded, a hearing is held and the council can express its concerns to the judge shown to have acted in an inappropriate or unethical manner. In cases of serious misconduct, the council can recommend that the federal government ask Parliament to remove a judge from office. The council can also investigate a complaint that a judge has failed to carry out his or her duties or is unfit or too ill to remain in office and, again, can recommend the judge’s dismissal from the bench. Both the House of Commons and Senate must vote in favour of a motion to remove a judge from office. Since 1867 only five Canadian superior court judges have been recommended for removal and all but one resigned to avoid dismissal. For more information on disciplinary procedures for superior court judges, see sections 59-71 of the Judges Act.