New bill gives attorney general more control over appointments to the bench

By Allison Smith February 18, 2021

Newly introduced Bill 245, fulfills Attorney General Doug Downey’s pledge to change the way judges are appointed, with an eye to filling vacancies faster and easing the courts’ heavy caseload.

The legislation gives Downey more authority over who is appointed to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee, which shortlists potential judges. His office said this aligns with how the Justice of the Peace Appointments Advisory Committee is selected and will “ensure local voices” make their way onto the panel.

The bill also increases the number of judicial candidates the committee recommends for each vacancy from two to six and makes it easier for candidates who were already vetted to be selected for a similar appointment by removing the requirement that new vacancies be publicly advertised.

These amendments will “fill judicial vacancies faster to reduce delays for Ontarians waiting to resolve legal issues in front of a judge,” the attorney general’s office told Queen’s Park Today.

When Downey first hinted at the measures in November 2019, legal experts including Peter Russell, who designed the current system, raised concerns they would open up the process to possible political interference. “They want a bunch of names so they can look down and find a nice soulmate Tory,” he told the Globe at the time.

The NDP had also questioned why the PCs are fixing a system they say isn’t broken and warned the change could encourage patronage.

However, legal organizations, including the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association, Ontario Crown Attorneys’ Association and Ontario Paralegal Association, have endorsed the plan.

The new legislation also authorizes current and former Ontario attorneys general to be called to the Ontario Bar without having to meet Law Society licensing requirements.

Downey’s office said this perk applies to attorneys general who are not lawyers, but they would still be required to comply with the LSO’s regulatory rules in order to practice law.

Some pandemic-related changes to the legal system would become permanent under Bill 245, such as the virtual witnessing of wills. It also legislates the amalgamation of five tribunals and review boards into the Ontario Land Tribunal, a move quietly announced last June.

At the time, the province said the merger would “make it faster to resolve land use planning disputes and increase housing supply across the province.”

Additionally, the omnibus bill removes the $10,000 cap on funds parents can inherit on behalf of their children; allows French documents to be filed in all of Ontario’s courthouses; dissolves the Public Accountants Council and transfers its functions to the Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario; and allows the Office of the Children’s Lawyer to release public reports.