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News Release

May 03, 2007

Politics Affects Judicial Appointments, New Study Finds

When it comes to judicial appointments, politics appear to be influencing selection, according to new research by a University of Guelph political scientist.

Troy Riddell examined 978 judicial appointments between 1988 and 2003 and found at least 30 per cent of judges appointed during the Brian Mulroney and Jean Chretien years made donations to the political party in power.

“That seems high, especially when you consider that less than one per cent of Canadians donate to federal political parties,” Riddell said. “Although individuals with political ties can be very fine judges, it does raise concerns that sometimes weaker candidates are appointed because of patronage.”

The study, which is scheduled to be published in the University of Toronto Law Journal in 2008, also shows that most of those judges made a donation within two years of being appointed to the bench.

These results raise larger concerns about the legitimacy of the judicial process, said Riddell.

“Every once in a while you hear stories about people appointed as judges as a reward for their political service,” said Riddell, who worked on the project with Lori Hausegger of Boise State University and Matthew Hennigar of Brock University. “So we wanted to test that out systematically and try to figure out how the selection committees were actually working.”

In response to accusations of partisan influence, the federal government changed the judicial appointment process in 1988 by setting up screening committees, said Riddell. These committees are supposed to objectively evaluate the applications and recommend to the minister of justice who should and who shouldn’t be appointed.

“Patronage appointments were supposed to be addressed with the creation of the screening committees, but that obviously hasn’t happened to a satisfactory degree,” he said.

One possible reason is that, under the current appointment process, the committees screen names provided by the government rather than collect the names of candidates independently, he said.

The issue of patronage appointments is becoming increasingly important as Canadian judges continue to gain more legal authority, he said. Judges now have the power to create policies and strike down laws under the Charter of Rights.

“They have the power to decide on issues ranging from the legalization of marijuana to abortion to healthcare and anti-terrorism. Even in non-charter cases, they make decisions that impact people’s lives.”

Prof. Troy Riddell
Department of Political Science
519-824-4120, Ext. 53797 home number 519-836-2616

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