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Law school language training would boost bilingualism among judges

Language training for law students could improve the bilingual capacity of Canada’s Superior Courts, Brampton lawyer-linguist Suzanne Deliscar tells

The federal government recently released a seven-point plan aimed at boosting the number of judges available to hear cases in either official language.

The plan lays out strategies for verifying and assessing the bilingual ability of judicial applicants, as well as promising to examine language training for current members of the judiciary.

But Deliscar, principal of Deliscar Professional Corporation, a law firm that offers services in English, French and Spanish, says that by the time judges are appointed, it’s often too late to significantly improve their language skills. She notes the government would be better served by making changes to law school curricula.  

“It seems a bit late to the party to be focusing on judges and judicial applicants. I think it makes sense to look at making changes early on in the training of prospective lawyers,” she says. “It’s hard to expect that judges, after practising for 10 or 15 years in English, are going to be able to start working in French on the bench.  

“When people arrive in law school, they don’t necessarily know whether they will want to be a judge later in their professional lives, but if there was some sort of French language requirement, it might help lay a better foundation,” Deliscar adds.

The federal action plan includes the following:

  • Judicial advisory committees (JAC) will be directed to verify the ability of self-identified bilingual candidates, while the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs (CFJA) will also be allowed to conduct spot checks or language assessments.
  • The CFJA will develop recommendations for a tool to objectively assess the language capabilities of judicial candidates, with a view to identifying relative levels of proficiency.
  • The CFJA will examine existing language programs and look at enhancing its applied component, which focuses on courtroom-based skills.
  • The CFJA will make training and information to JACs on linguistic rights of litigants.
  • The federal government will ask the Canadian Judicial Council to develop training modules for federally appointed judges on the linguistic rights of litigants.
  • Canada’s Justice Department will work with interested jurisdictions and courts to attempt to assess the existing bilingual capacity of Superior Courts.
  • The department will also consult with the provinces and territories regarding an assessment of the needs of Canadians in accessing Superior Courts in both official languages.

“All Canadians are entitled to have fair and equitable access to the justice system, which should be able to respond to their needs in the official language of their choice,” Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said in a statement.

“The measures contained in the Action Plan will allow our Government to take stock of where we are in terms of providing equal access to the Superior Courts in both official languages, and, where we find gaps, taking concrete steps to fill them.”

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