Earlier this month, the Canadian Judicial Council published updated ethics guidance for federally appointed judges. The new Ethical Principles for Judges substantially revises a 1998 document of the same name. Among the revisions is a caution that judges must be technologically competent. The section addressing judicial diligence and competence includes the following statement:
3.C.5 Judges should develop and maintain proficiency with technology relevant to the nature and performance of their judicial duties.
This provision on technological competence is a welcome addition to the Principles. Two years ago, I argued in a Slaw column that there should be a formally recognized duty of technological competence for Canadian judges. Since that time, the need for judicial technological competence has only increased. New, more powerful technological tools have emerged, and the COVID-19 pandemic has radically accelerated the use of some technologies by courts. Including technological competence in ethics guidance for judges is long overdue. The Principles mark an important step forward in this regard.
Now that an obligation of judicial technological competence has been recognized, there remains the question of what, exactly, this obligation entails. There will be obvious cases where judges fall far short. Take, for example, a New York judge who faced complaints for, among other things, not using his court email account for three years, using paper forms of his own design rather than a required online process for certain court matters, and failing to use a provided computer and software program for financial and case administration (h/t to Bob Ambrogi who mentioned this example in his blog here). But what about the margins? And what about judges who want to proactively reflect upon or improve their technological knowledge and skills to ensure they are meeting their ethical obligations?
This content has been updated on 08/26/2021 at 15 h 22 min.