The Toronto Star, supported by the Criminal Lawyers Association, brought an application to obtain disclosure of the full contents of a complaint file relating to a judge. The Council issued its decision on the application on October 14, 2015. In its decision, the Council discusses the confidentiality framework established by the Courts of Justice Act and the important role confidentiality plays in judicial discipline.
Due to the unique circumstances of this application, the Council has decided it is in the interest of all those involved to make its decision public. To read the decision, click here. To read the Addendum to the decision, click here.
The Courts of Justice Act establishes a complaints process that is usually private and confidential unless the Ontario Judicial Council decides that the appropriate course of action is to hold a hearing.
A committee of the Council, known as the complaint subcommittee, examines each new complaint and conducts an investigation. The complaint subcommittee may refer the complaint to a review panel. Both the complaint subcommittee and the review panel conduct their processes in private. In fact the review panel is never made aware of the complainant’s or the judge’s identities. If the review panel finds there is sufficient merit to warrant holding a hearing, it will refer the matter to a hearing..
The hearing process, by contrast, is public unless there are exceptional circumstances that require some or all of the hearing be held in private. When a hearing is ordered, the public receives information about the hearing through the Council’s website and a notice published by the Council in the newspaper.
Order by the Council:
The Council operates under an Order to uphold the confidentiality framework intended by the statute that established the complaints process. The Order states:
The Judicial Council has ordered that, subject to an order by the Council, a review panel or a hearing panel, any information or documents relating to a mediation or a Council meeting or hearing that was not held in public are confidential and shall not be disclosed or made public. The order applies whether the information or documents are in the possession of the Judicial Council, the Attorney General or any other person. The order of non-disclosure does not apply to information and/or documents that the Courts of Justice Act requires the Judicial Council to disclose or that have not been treated as confidential and were not prepared exclusively for the purposes of the mediation or Council meeting or hearing.
The letter sent to the complainant at the end of the process to inform the complainant of the outcome, is subject to the Order above, and is confidential.