Retired Supreme Court judges object to 50-year embargo on documents: 'Too long for any useful purpose'

Posted
May 15, 2018
Article Source
The Globe and Mail

Two retired judges of the Supreme Court of Canada say 50 years is too long to seal internal court documents revealing the communications between judges on cases.

John Major of Alberta called the half-century embargo "too long for any useful purpose" and Louis LeBel of Quebec said the judges will be "a part of history" long before researchers gain access to the files.

"I have an interest in history," Mr. LeBel, who served from 2000 to 2015, told The Globe and Mail. "Speaking for myself, I would think that a period of 20 or 25 years might have been enough. ... when things have really become a part of history and when all the people involved are gone [from the court], and have really become themselves a part of history."

The court signed an agreement with Library and Archives Canada last June to transfer files relating to correspondence between judges as they deliberate after hearing a case, but before producing a public, written ruling. The files are not covered by federal access to information law. They are to become publicly accessible in 50 years. In the United States, Britain, Australia and in other Canadian jurisdictions, judges can decide what to do with such documents after retirement. At one time, Canadian Supreme Court judges had similar rights to their own files.

In announcing the agreement, which attracted little attention at the time, the court said it would "ensure that the case files of Canada's highest court will be preserved and accessible to future generations."

Chief Justice Richard Wagner has declined to publicly explain the rationale of the new policy and the court's executive legal officer, Gib van Ert, would only point to the joint news release from the court and the archives issued last June.

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