Demystifying the Nomination of Judges  

Understanding the Law

Judges have been in the news lately. Justice Russell Brown resigned from the Supreme Court of Canada recently, and Quebec Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette recently named two judges to the Court of Québec. The process of nominating judges sometimes seems shrouded in mystery. Here’s a look at how it works both in Quebec and at the federal level. 

The Quebec nomination process 

The Quebec nomination process is similar to the federal process (described below), with a few slight differences. 

Quebec is responsible for naming judges to the Court of Québec and municipal courts. When there’s an opening to be filled, a competition is organized at the request of the Minister of Justice. The secretariat responsible for naming judges must publish a notice, which resembles a job posting, on the websites of Justice Québec and the Barreau du Québec (the professional order of lawyers). 

The Justice Minister then establishes a selection committee that evaluates the candidates and drafts a confidential report recommending at most three candidates. Each of these candidates must have received the support of the majority of committee members. The Minister then chooses from among these recommended candidates.  

The Minister of Justice must follow strict guidelines when choosing the five people that will serve on the selection committee. The committee must consist of: 

  • The Chief Judge of the Court of Québec, or a judge chosen by the Chief Judge,   
  • Two people named by Barreau du Québec, of which one must be a lawyer, and 
  • Two people, other than lawyers or notaries, named by the Office des professions du Québec (Quebec office of professional orders). 

Who can be named a judge? 

It’s probably no surprise that there are certain criteria a person must satisfy to be named a judge. To be eligible to submit your candidacy, you must have been a lawyer or notary for at least 10 years.   

The committee then evaluates the candidates based on  

  • their abilities, 
  • their views on the role of a judge, 
  • their motivation, 
  • their experience,   
  • their awareness of social issues, and 
  • how they are viewed by the legal community.   

To avoid partisanship, the committee must not consider the candidate’s political affiliation. 

The federal nomination process 

David Lametti, the Minister of Justice of Canada, is responsible for naming judges to the following courts: 

  • Superior Court of Québec 
  • Court of Appeal of Quebec 
  • Canadian Tax Court 
  • Federal Court of Canada 
  • Federal Court of Appeal 
  • Supreme Court of Canada 

The procedure is similar to that described above for the Court of Québec and municipal courts, with a few differences. One is that notaries are not eligible to be named as judges in the federal process. Another is that, instead of a selection committee, there is a consultative committee. Its composition includes lawyers and judges from the province where the judge will preside.  

Further, the committee evaluates every candidate who applies and ranks them as “highly recommended”, “recommended,” or “unable to recommend”. There is no limit to the number of candidates the committee may recommend.  

The Supreme Court of Canada is the highest court in the land. Three of its nine judges are named from Quebec. There is a specific consultative committee with the mandate to provide recommendations. It has eight members, of whom three are named by the Minister of Justice. The committee’s membership is renewed every two years.