Three federal judges in Canada have been cleared of wrongdoing after they attended sponsored social events at an international tax conference in Spain. The Canadian Judicial Council concluded that concerns that the judges’ attendance compromised their impartiality were “unfounded.”
The judges themselves were more sanguine about the signal their attendance might have sent. Judge R.S. Bocock, for example, recused himself from a pending case involving one of the sponsors, even though he was unaware of the conflict at the time he attended the sponsored event. Bocock stated,
“I have reflected on this entire matter….The potential for a conflict of interest in this matter seems remote; however, through inadvertence, the portrayal of a potential conflict, where all the facts are at first unknown, is possible,” said Bocock, in a letter sent to the complainant.
“As such, there are consequences, costs, and reputational risks to the judge, the judiciary and the administration of justice as a whole. Prudence and best practice would suggest that, in future, refraining from attending such off site sponsored conference receptions is a better and wiser choice. I certainly intend to follow this prudent conduct in the future.”
Judges often have to straddle a line on social occasions so as to not appear to favoring a particular party or law firm. The appearance of impartiality is so important that most judges choose to avoid more social events than they rightfully should. But there is no easy solution. Justice Abe Fortas reportedly said that “Judging is a lonely job in which a man is, or near as may be, an island entire.” The phrasing is a bit stiff, but there is plainly some truth to the observation.