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Role of Judges

Judges decide a variety of cases that come before the courts, including civil suits, criminal cases and family law matters. When there is no jury, judges…

  • determine the facts
  • interpret the law
  • apply the law to the facts of the case
  • decide the outcome

Judges also ensure that cases are conducted following the rules of court and the rules dealing with evidence that can be used. These rules do more than ensure that court proceedings run smoothly – they also help to protect the rights of individuals before the courts and promote fairness. A judge will help ensure that both sides get a fair opportunity to present their case and act as an independent and impartial decision-maker.

We have what is known as an adversarial system of justice - legal cases are contests between opposing sides, which ensures that evidence and legal arguments will be fully and forcefully presented. The judge, however, remains above the fray, providing an independent and impartial assessment of the facts and how the law applies to those facts.

— The Canadian Superior Courts Judges Association

After a judge has decided the outcome of the case they will determine the sentence, in criminal matters, or the remedy in civil cases.

Judges must provide reasons for their decisions. Sometimes judges will explain their reasons in court at the same time they give their decision on the case. Other times judges will give their decision in court at the end of the case but provide the reasons for their decision in a written decision at a later date. Judges may also provide oral reasons in court and a written decision at a later time.

In cases where there is a jury, the judge ensures that the rules are followed and that only proper evidence is heard. The jury decides which facts to believe and makes the decision in the case based on instructions from the judge. These instructions include an explanation of the laws that apply and what the jury can consider when making their decision about the outcome of the case and the criminal sentence or civil remedy. Juries do not provide reasons for their decision. For more information see Jury Duty.

Judges must hold themselves to high standards: they must both be and appear to be fair and impartial. Because of this, judges are prohibited from overseeing cases where they may have a conflict-of-interest. For example, if the judge has a relationship with one of the litigants, it could be a conflict of interest. As well, judges cannot belong to or donate to a political party, they must refrain from signing petitions, and they must exercise caution when speaking in public about political, social, or legal issues.

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