The judicial system in tune with society

English closed captions available.

M-E: Good morning, Mr. Chief Justice.

RW: Good morning, Dean Sylvestre.

M-E: It’s a pleasure to welcome you, always a pleasure to see you again here at the Faculty of Law of the University of Ottawa.

RW: It’s always a pleasure when I come back here.

M-E: You’re a bit at home here.

RW: Absolutely, absolutely.

MES: Do you find that there is a place for innovation and creativity within the judicial function?

RW: Absolutely, it’s about having the will and a sense of open-mindedness, and I think at all levels we can be innovative. You always have to be in tune with society. We must always be able to respond to expectations and needs, and this is obviously done through our judicial decisions when, for example, certain values in our Charter of Rights must be interpreted to reflect the needs of society. I am thinking, for example, of the Carter decision that was rendered a couple of years ago concerning assisted suicide, which responded to a need that was a legal interpretation at first, but which also responded to a societal situation. So innovation, yes. Obviously, we must interpret the law. We must therefore, in this sense — we are not the legislator, but there is a way to do our work by being attentive to the evolution of society and by not hesitating to use new tools, which were not used before, to ensure our mission, that is to say, to ensure that people understand our judicial decisions. We have to make sure that people understand and appreciate the judicial system, and this is done through tools such as those we have used in the last few years: social media, external visits, our annual activity report, etc. These are new innovations that didn’t exist before. On other levels, eventually, in other years, in the years to come, there will be other tools that will perhaps be available. Other ways of doing things that will be appropriate given our mission and our duty of confidentiality and that we will have to look at. Nothing is impossible.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the legal community to rethink their ways of doing things. It has also forced a long overdue modernization process and led to an acceleration of innovation within various institutions, notably with the adoption of measures and technologies to deliver justice remotly.

“You always have to be in tune with society,” says the Right Honourable Richard Wagner, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. In this conversation with Marie-Eve Sylvestre, Dean of the Civil Law Section at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, the Chief Justice discusses the place of innovation and creativity in the judicial system. Above all, Justice Wagner notes, judicial actors have to be attentive to the evolution of society, which may require a willingness to use the new tools and an openness to new ways of doing things. He explores how innovation is a natural part of making sure that people understand and appreciate the judicial system. “It’s about having the will and a sense of open-mindedness,” he says. “I think at all levels, we can be innovative.”

A recent report from the Canadian Bar Association echoes the Chief Justice’s remarks by proposing a repositioning of the Canadian justice system in order to modernize it so as to meet the needs of all stakeholders. According to its authors, “a long-awaited new paradigm in the digital age that ultimately realigns the justice system with our digital reality [will be] the work of a generation, integrating tech and determining policy”. It poses a major challenge for the legal community, but it also gives lawyers an opportunity to propose new and innovative solutions.

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