Nova Scotia’s justice minister is drawing fire from the Progressive Conservatives who claim he stepped on judicial independence by overriding a recruitment committee struck last year on the appointment of the chief judge of the provincial and family courts.
Tory Leader Tim Houston said Thursday that correspondence obtained by his party shows Mark Furey reappointed Chief Judge Pamela Williams despite a recommendation from the committee that Judge Alanna Murphy be appointed to the position.
Williams was reappointed last August.
But a letter from the committee to Furey dated June 13, 2018, said it was recommending Murphy for the position and said it had enclosed the judge’s resume.
“The committee made a recommendation and the minister didn’t like it,” Houston told reporters.
“I think this is an example of how far this Liberal government will go to get what they want. We should never have political interference in the court system and that’s what I feel has happened here.”
The Tories also tabled a resignation letter in the legislature by committee chair and now retired chief justice Michael MacDonald, who said the recruitment process had “undermined” his role in “representing the common interests of each and every judge in the province.”
“For this reason, I can no longer be involved with future appointments for either the chief judge or associate chief judge,” MacDonald wrote last Sept. 18.
In fact, the terms of reference state that cabinet “will act” on the advice of the recruitment committee.
But Furey said it was within his purview to request more information from the committee and to make his recommendation to cabinet based on all considerations, including that Williams had been serving in the role, which has a five-year term.
In a July 9 letter to MacDonald, Furey noted that the committee had enclosed Murphy’s resume but not that of Williams.
“I would appreciate it if you could also provide me with Chief Judge Williams’ resume as well as the ranking of all candidates by order of preference, as required by the process. This will assist me in the exercise of my discretion and statutory responsibilities as the Minister of Justice to make a fully-informed recommendation to Governor in Council regarding the appointment of the Chief Judge.”
On Thursday, Furey said he had the option to simply reappoint Williams, but he wanted to adhere to a process that has been in use for the past 20 years and that’s why he struck the committee.
However, he said he believes the decision was ultimately his to make and he did so based on the advice of department lawyers.
“That’s exactly how the act is laid out. The act itself provides advice and recommendation and ultimately that is the minister’s decision based on all of the information.”
WATCH: Nova Scotia Justice Minister talks legalization on historic day
Premier Stephen McNeil backed Furey and said the government had done nothing wrong in making the reappointment of Williams whom he said has “impeccable credentials and who had served her previous term with distinction.”
NDP Gary Burrill was measured in his assessment of what happened.
Burrill said it was clear that MacDonald had resigned as part of criticism of the government’s process.
“It’s incumbent on the government to be very clear and to make it possible to understand what those (MacDonald’s) misgivings are about,” he said. “That’s not clear at this moment.”
With files from Alexander Quon