Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to begin second rebating debate on Bill C-30, an act to establish a body that provides administrative services to the Federal Court of Appeal, the Federal Court, the Court Martial Appeal Court and the Tax Court of Canada.
The principal objective of the bill is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the administration of the Federal Court of Canada and the Tax Court of Canada through certain structural modifications to these courts. As important, these amendments are designed to respect fully the courts' independence and to ensure the continued provision of the high quality of justice that Canadians have come to expect from these courts.
Our constitution establishes that responsibility and powers for courts administration is shared between the judiciary and the government. On the one hand, it is the responsibility of the government to provide and be publicly accountable for the provision of the necessary resources required to support the courts' functions.
Chief justices on the other hand are responsible and accountable for the effective administration of the courts as it relates to the judicial function. It is a constitutional requirement that the courts enjoy an established level of institutional or administrative independence.
In the seminal case on judicial independence, Valente v. the Queen, the Supreme Court of Canada indicated that an institutional independence requires that the judiciary remain in control of all matters bearing directly on the judicial function.
I am confident that the administrative structure proposed in Bill C-30 creates the appropriate balance between judicial independence and financial accountability for the use of public funds in a manner that meets or surpasses the test in Valente. I would add that the courts have agreed that the proposed structure satisfies the constitutional test for institutional independence.
I would like to emphasize, however, that it was not solely the constitutional imperative but, as important, the practical realities of shared responsibility for courts administration, that led to the proposed structure of the courts administrative service. Between the two poles of their respective authority and accountability, there is a large operational and policy area in which both government and the judiciary have an interest and a role.
A recognition of the need for government-judicial partnership in this area was the starting point in developing the reforms reflected in the bill. The objective of these reforms was not to alter the role of the chief justices in the administration of their courts. Rather the proposed structural reforms would build on the current strengths in order to achieve improved efficiencies through a consolidated administrative service at the direction of a single experienced senior official.
The proposed courts administration service was developed partly in response to efficiency concerns that had been raised by the former auditor general in 1997 with respect to the administration of the federal court and tax court.
The government and courts jointly recognized that there was an opportunity to be responsive to the auditor general's concerns, without undermining either the requisite institutional independence of the courts or the high quality of justice they are committed to delivering. Designing an administrative structure with the input and collaboration of the judiciary was seen as a key to ensuring its viability and ultimate success.
It is for that reason that the proposed model was developed in close collaboration with the Federal Court, the Tax Court and the Court Martial Appeal Court. The advice and views of the chief justices were sought throughout the process on both the overall structure and its technical implementation.
I am therefore pleased to be able to advise hon. members today that the proposed new courts administrative service enjoys the full support and commitment of the courts. I am equally pleased to advise that the former auditor general also expressed his satisfaction and support for the proposed reforms.
I should point out that the former auditor general had recommended the complete merger of the federal court and the Tax Court of Canada as a means to address the administrative in efficiencies he identified. However, after serious consideration of all of the former auditor general's recommendations, the government has decided against wholesale merger of the courts and opted instead for consolidation of the administrations only.
Both the Federal Court and Tax Court are established and respected national institutions that separately and ably perform important necessary functions. The government is satisfied that the overall structure of the two courts is essentially sound and that the proposed consolidated courts administration service would achieve the auditor general's objectives for improved co-ordination and overall efficiencies.
I am pleased to advise that following introduction of former Bill C-40, the predecessor of Bill C-30, the then auditor general indicated his support for this approach.
In a letter to the Minister of Justice dated June 26, 2000, the former auditor general wrote:
We are pleased that the proposed legislation reflects the key recommendations of our April 1997 report to the Minister of Justice.... With proper implementation, the proposed measures should significantly improve the efficiency and accountability and the administrative services provided to the courts while maintaining the independence of the judicial function.
We are confident that the new courts administration service will provide the strong and cohesive administrative framework necessary to ensure the effective and efficient use of public resources.
In addition to the consolidation of the current administrative services of the two courts into a single courts administration service, Bill C-30 includes two other important structural reforms: first, the creation of a separate Federal Court of Appeal; and second, a change in the status of the tax court to that of a superior court. I would like to first provide more details on the courts administration proposals and then explain the objective of the two latter proposals.
As I have indicated, the most significant structural modification in the bill is the consolidation of the current administrative services of the two courts into a single service. The service would serve the administrative needs of the Federal Court, the Tax Court and the Court Martial Appeal Court. This would entail common management of all aspects of administration, including court facilities, registries and related real property and common corporate services.
The bill provides that the courts administration service would be headed by a chief administrator. This experienced senior official, appointed by governor in council, would be responsible and accountable to parliament for all matters of administration relating to the courts. The bill expressly provides that the judiciary would continue to be responsible for all matters relating to judicial functions.
As I have indicated, this structure contemplates regular and ongoing collaboration between the chief justices and the chief administrator in their areas of shared interest and responsibility. Regular consultations with individual chief justices and their associates will no doubt be a regular mode of operation. It is noteworthy that the bill expressly requires that the chief administrator consult with the chief justices when making decisions concerning the establishment and operation of registries and when preparing budgetary submissions.
While it is expected that the judiciary and the chief administrator will work toward consensus with respect to all important decisions relating to the effective operation of the courts, there may be occasions in which their respective views differ sufficiently that a definitive decision needs to be taken. To provide for such occasions, which we expect would be rare, the bill provides statutory authority for chief justices to give binding written directions to the chief administrator on any matter within the authority of the chief administrator.
I want to pause here to make what may appear to be an obvious point. The proposed courts administration service and all matters of courts administration would remain subject to the same legal and statutory framework as other federal government institutions, including the estimates process, the Financial Administration Act and the applicable public service employment statutes. Any directions that may be provided by a chief justice to the chief administrator under this proposal would have to be consistent with that framework.
The courts administration service will be at arm's length from the government, thus reinforcing an appropriate degree of independence. However, the bill also provides for improved accountability, particularly before parliament, for both administrative effectiveness and probity in the use of public resources.
The chief administrator would be required to report annually to parliament on the administration of the court and would appear before parliamentary committees to answer questions on the courts' estimates. In fulfilling his or her duty to account for all aspects of court administration, the chief administrator would have the discretion to publish in the annual report any written directions from the chief justices. In addition, the chief administrator could use the written directions in the context of any appearances before parliamentary committees.
These are the main elements of the proposed courts administration service. The proposed structure has the support of all the affected courts as well as the former auditor general.
The second element of the proposed reform in the bill would alter the structural relationship between the Federal Court Trial Division and the Federal Court of Appeal. The objective of this reform is to clarify the respective roles of the chief justices of the trial court and the court of appeal, and to ensure the most efficient judicial management of each court.
Currently, the court of appeal and the trial court are two divisions of the same court with the chief justice responsible for the overall management of the court. The bill would create two separate courts. The current chief justice would continue as chief justice of the Federal Court with responsibility for judicial management of the court of appeal. The current associate chief justice of the trial division would become the chief justice of the separate trial court with overall management responsibility for that court. This structure is the norm in most provincial superior courts.
The final key reform element would confer on the Tax Court of Canada the status of superior court. This change of status is intended to recognize the Tax Court as a well respected institution that provides an exemplary service to Canadians. Superior court status would also establish the Tax Court as a full equal partner with the other three courts in the newly consolidated administration.
I would like to point out that this change of status would not result in either enhanced remuneration or jurisdiction for the judges of the Tax Court. The judges of the Tax Court already receive salaries and benefits at the level equivalent to superior court judges. Moreover, superior court status for the Tax Court is intended to support and reinforce the administrative objectives of the structural changes. The court does not seek through these reforms to effect any substantive change to the current jurisdiction and remedial powers of the tax court.
I am confident that these reforms will receive widespread support from all those served by the Federal Court and Tax Court. By creating a single administrative framework, as I have just described, the opportunities for administrative improvements and efficiencies will be effectively realized and the high quality of justice that Canadians expect from these important national institutions will be maintained.
The government puts forward the bill and I commend it to parliament for consideration.