Federally appointed Judges may lack principles and integrity and might take bribes if they don't get 10.8% pay raise?
Opposition MPs should quit stalling a controversial bill that would raise salaries for Canada's 1,000 federal judges by up to 19.2 per cent over four years, says the Canadian Bar Association.
At its annual meeting yesterday, the 34,000-member association demanded Parliament pass "without further delay" a bill tabled last May by Justice Minister Irwin Cotler.
The bill, opposed by the Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois, would boost most federally appointed judges' salaries 10.8 per cent to $240,000 from $219,400, effective April 1, 2004. There would be cumulative annual indexing in each of the subsequent three years.
The projected $93.6-million judicial pay package was recommended last year by an independent commission after submissions from the federal government and judges.
But the bill has been bogged down in the minority Parliament because the opposition claims the raise is excessive compared with what the average Canadian gets, about three per cent annually.
"That's the craziest philosophy I have ever heard," scoffed Canadian Bar Association president Susan McGrath.
She accused opposition MPs of "playing politics" by ignoring the evidence-based recommendations of an independent commission, which was specifically created to take partisanship out of longstanding unseemly wage wrangles between judges and legislators, which are supposed to be independent branches of government.
"The average Canadian can be swayed based on financial factors, and what we are trying to ensure is that these judges are in a position where they can live a comfortable life without having to worry about financial considerations or anybody applying financial pressure to them," Ms. McGrath explained.
Judicial bribery is rampant in many developing countries where judges are forced to struggle along on meagre salaries, she noted.
"If that's the kind of system that we want, then sure, we freeze judges' salaries, pay them the same thing as the average man and then they all have to make money on the side," she argued.
"If we want to preserve our form of democracy as we have it now, which happens to be the envy of the entire world, then we have to ensure judicial independence, and one of the most significant factors of that is providing sufficient compensation to our judges to allow them to be independent."
Successful practising lawyers can earn $500,000 to $600,000 a year, she pointed out.
"In order to be able to attract the best and the brightest we have to at least afford a salary that is reasonable."
The bar association also stressed the delayed bill would create 27 badly needed judgeships to help ease the workload of backlogged family courts in Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador.