British Columbia's system of government has three branches: judicial, executive, and legislative. The function of the judicial branch is to interpret the law, resolve disputes, and defend the Constitution including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This role requires that the judiciary be distinct from, and operate independently of, all other justice system participants, including the other two branches of government.
Every Canadian has the constitutional right to have his or her legal issues decided by fair and impartial judges. In Canada, and in British Columbia in particular, our courts enjoy a high level of public confidence because an independent judiciary has been firmly established.
Judicial independence has many definitions, but ultimately it means that judicial officers of the Court have the freedom to decide each case on its own merits, without interference or influence of any kind from any source. While judicial decisions rarely result in everyone being happy, our justice system is founded on a public confidence that decisions, whether popular or not, are fully heard and fairly made. It is crucial that the judiciary both be independent and appear to be independent so that there is public confidence that judicial decisions are made without bias.
To guarantee the right to an independent and impartial judiciary, the law in Canada has constitutional protections or "essential conditions" that ensure judicial independence. These are security of tenure, financial security, and administrative independence.
Security of tenure prevents the arbitrary removal of judges. Financial security provides an arm's length mechanism, through a special remuneration commission, for determining the salaries and benefits of judges. Administrative independence enables the Court to manage itself, rather than be managed by others. While these protections pertain to judges, they are for the benefit of the public. They allow courts to apply the rule of law that Canadians, through the electoral and legislative processes, have decided should govern them.