Alberta modified the requirements for justices of the peace who exercise judicial functions with the passage of the Justice Statutes Amendment Act, requiring at least five years of good standing with the Alberta law society. The passage of the Act had the effect of terminating a number of positions, including the respondents. The respondents sought a declaration that the section which provided for their removal violated the constitutionally required security of tenure and independence. The respondents were successful at the lower courts, which Alberta appealed.
- Do statutory requirements which provide for the removal of underqualified justices of the peace interfere with security of tenure and thus undermine the independence of the judiciary?
Major, writing for a unanimous Court, held that judicial independence was not compromised by the Act. He discussed three bases of judicial independence: impartiality in adjudication, preservation of our constitutional order, and public confidence in the administration of justice. The essence of security of tenure is that justices be immune from arbitrary or discretionary removal, whereas the reforms in the Act were necessary reforms aimed at strengthening public confidence in the administration of justice. Major held that any negative effects of the passage of the Act were outweighed by the positive effects of the reform (which the respondents did not argue against). The respondents' argument that these reforms should only apply to new entrants were rejected as simply delaying the reform.
- There are three bases of judicial independence:
- preservation of constitutional order;
- public confidence in the justice system.
- Statutory requirements for justices do not interfere with security of tenure.