About Judges

Collectively, the province's judges are known as the Nova Scotia Judiciary. Depending on the level of Court, they are appointed by either the federal or provincial government. They preside in courthouses, including satellite courts and wellness court programs, across the province. 

Members of the Judiciary are held to a high standard in Canada. Although fully independent, judges are accountable for their decisions through appeals, and for their conduct, both in and outside the courtroom.


How Judges Are Appointed

Justices of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia (both General and Family Divisions), are appointed by the federal government. Judges of the Provincial Court of Nova Scotia are appointed by the provincial government.

In both cases, the appointees are selected from a list of qualified candidates, as recommended by independent judicial advisory committees. These committees are made up of judges, lawyers, government representatives, and members of the general public. 

Federal Judicial Advisory Committees

Guidelines for Provincial Judicial Appointments

In order to be eligible to be considered for a position on the Bench, a prospective candidate must have been a barrister or advocate for at least 10 years in any province; or have been a barrister or advocate in any province, and exercised powers and performed duties and functions of a judicial nature on a full-time basis for a total of at 10 years. Click on the link below to learn more about the education and other requirements to become a judge. 

Required Education and Experience

Judicial Independence

An independent Judiciary is essential to any civilized society. It exists, not for the benefit of the Judiciary, but for the citizens who rely on judges to resolve their disputes impartially, without fear or favour.

In Canada, judicial independence is achieved by safeguarding individual judges from all outside influences (adjudicative independence) and by making the Judiciary, as an institution, visibly independent of government (institutional independence).

Adjudicative Independence

There are two fundamental safeguards designed to insulate judges from outside influences. The first is security of tenure and the second is financial security.

Security of tenure ensures a judge’s position on the Bench is secure as long as they demonstrate good behavior. This means a judge can rule against the government without having to worry about losing their job, which, in turn, provides comfort for citizens who take the government to court.

Financial security ensures a judge's decision is not swayed by money or other financial benefits. For example, a citizen suing the government does not have to worry about the judge siding with the government to secure a salary increase, because salaries for judges are guided by the results of an independent inquiry. 

Institutional Independence

Canada’s government has three distinct branches: the elected legislative branch that passes the laws; the executive branch that implements government policy based on the laws that are passed; and the judicial branch, also known as the Judiciary.

The executive branch is accountable to the legislative branch, but the judicial branch must operate, and be seen to operate, independently of the other two. To ensure this independence, the Judiciary controls its own process with such things as the assignment of judges, the timing of court sittings, and the scheduling of cases.

Why is Judicial Independence Important to You?

Judicial Engagement 

It used to be that judges rarely left the courtroom to visit the communities they served, particularly the racialized communities often over-represented in the criminal and family law systems. 

But judges, as guardians of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, must balance competing societal values. It only makes sense that they understand, as much as they can, those values and the world view of those who turn to the Courts for relief. For that reason, members of the Nova Scotia Judiciary have been working on judicial outreach initiatives to listen and learn from those in the Indigenous and African Nova Scotia communities.

Listening and Learning from Indigenous Leaders

On June 9, 2017, members of the Nova Scotia Judiciary visited Membertou First Nation to hear from aboriginal leaders about the challenges facing First Nations communities in Cape Breton, particularly the child welfare system in Nova Scotia.

The meeting was the first of its kind in this province, arranged by The Hon. Lawrence O’Neil in response to the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as well as some alarming trends that the Associate Chief Justice noticed while presiding over Family Division matters in Sydney, N.S.

Leaders from six First Nations communities were invited to the meeting in Membertou, as well representatives from the provincial departments of Justice and Community Services, Nova Scotia Legal Aid, the Unama’ki College of Cape Breton and other community-based organizations that support Aboriginal parents, children and families.

The Chief and Associate Chief Justices of the Nova Scotia Appeal Court and the Supreme Court, and all the judges of the Family Division, were also on hand. Their attendance demonstrates the Judiciary’s willingness to adapt to the changing realities and needs of all Nova Scotia families.

Broadening Our Horizons: Understanding African Nova Scotian Access to Justice

On June 7-8, 2018, about 45 judges from the Nova Scotia Courts visited the Black Cultural Centre in Cherry Brook to listen and learn from legal experts and community leaders about the challenges facing the African Nova Scotian community, particularly in the context of the justice system.

The conference began with a session for judges only, led by Kimberly Papillon, Esq., an internationally recognized expert on medical, legal and judicial decision-making. Ms. Papillon focused on how emerging research in neuroscience can help decision-makers better understand the effects unconscious processes can have on legal decision-making.

Other sessions engaged both judges and community leaders, and looked at African Nova Scotian history and related contemporary legal issues, the distinct cultural context and needs of African Nova Scotian families and children, and the unique concerns that can arise when working with African Nova Scotians in the criminal justice system.

Judicial Conduct and Accountability

Members of the Judiciary are held to a high standard in Canada. Although fully independent, judges are accountable for their decisions through appeals, and for their conduct, both in and outside the courtroom. 

In the Courts, accountability is achieved through the open court principle. With very few exceptions, what judges do (their conduct) and what they decide (their rulings) is on the record and open for all to see. 

When a party in a legal dispute thinks the judge has come to the wrong decision, our justice system allows that person to appeal the ruling to a higher Court and request that the decision be varied or reversed.  

When someone believes a judge’s conduct or behaviour is of serious concern, or that a judge is not fit to be on the Bench, our system allows that person to file a complaint. If a complaint is filed, there are different processes to review the complaint, depending on whether it involves a federally and provincially appointed judge. 

The Conduct of Judges

Ethical Principles for Judges

Judicial Complaints

Complaints Involving a Federally Appointed Judge

Federally appointed judges include those on the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia (both General and Family Divisions), as well as the Chief Justice and Associate Chief Justices of these Courts.  

If you believe the conduct of a federally appointed judge is improper, on or off the Bench, you may file a written complaint with the Canadian Judicial Council (CJC). The CJC is the national body, created under the Judges Act, responsible for the accountability and quality of judicial service on the Superior Courts of Canada.  

Canadian Judicial Council - Complaint Process

Complaints Involving a Provincially Appointed Judge

Provincially appointed judges are those on the Provincial Court of Nova Scotia, including the Chief Judge and Associate Chief Judge of that Court. Complaint procedures for provincially appointed judges are governed by Nova Scotia's Provincial Court Act

If you believe the conduct of a provincially appointed judge is improper, on or off the Bench, you may file a written complaint with the Chief Judge. Complaints should be mailed to:

Office of the Chief Judge 
277 Pleasant St., Suite 200
Dartmouth, N.S. 
B2Y 4B7

If you have a complaint about the conduct of the Chief Judge or an Associate Chief Judge of the Provincial Court, that must be sent in writing to:

Office of the Chief Justice of Nova Scotia
The Law Courts, 5th Floor
1815 Upper Water St.
Halifax, N.S. 
B3J 1S7

In order to be considered official under the Provincial Court Act, complaints must be submitted in writing and include all of the following information:  

  • your name and signature; 
  • your contact information; 
  • the judge's name; 
  • the Court;
  • the name(s) of other parties, if applicable; and
  • as much detail as possible about the alleged misconduct (i.e. date, case, etc.).

Decisions of Judicial Complaint Review Committees

Judge Alanna Murphy - March 30, 2022

Judge Greg Lenehan - March 28, 2018

Decisions of Chief Justice of Nova Scotia, as Chair of Judicial Council

Chief Judge Pamela Williams - Oct. 10, 2023