A court document related to a recent appeal in an Alberta divorce case has highlighted the consequences of a shortage of judges in the province, an issue the solicitor general said she’s raised with her federal counterpart.
The memorandum, filed April 13 and attributed to Justice Ronald Berger, described what it was like in the court room during the appeal:
“The chambers judge, not unlike most Queen’s Bench judges sitting in family law chambers, had before him that morning a veritable plethora of applications similar in kind. He was clearly pressed for time. Indeed, after brief introductory submissions, counsel for the respondent was told:
“I —; I hate to cut you short but there’s other people here we’re moving along, you know. We’re —; I want to be able to give you some order before you leave today but if you burn up all your time, you’ll leave without anything.”
It went on to read:
“The shortage of judges in the Court of Queen’s Bench places the presiding justices in family law chambers in the unenviable position of having to pronounce upon difficult and often complex issues, but without the requisite time to carefully consider the competing considerations. They do the best they can.”
Alberta Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Kathleen Ganley told Global News she knows current vacancies on the Court of Queen’s Bench and the Court of Appeal are “creating challenges.”
“Although the province can increase the number of positions on those courts, only the federal government has the authority to appoint justices,” Ganley said in a statement. “I’ve raised this issue with my federal counterpart and will be advocating for these vacancies to be filled.”
Ganley suggested new appointments will help address pressures on the justice system by allowing more cases to be heard in a given day. Currently there are six justice vacancies on the Court of Queen’s Bench, and four vacancies on the Court of Appeal.
Speaking to reporters on April 12, Federal Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould said she’s working on expanding judicial appointments to include “merit and diversity.”
“I’ve spoken with the Chief Justice in Alberta. I recognize the urgency,” she said.
“That was impressed upon me middle of last week, and we are working as quickly as we can to ensure that we make substantive appointments and that we get it right.”
A request for comment to Justice Berger’s office was not returned by publication time.