Reuters International

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question from a journalist during an event at a restaurant in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, July 20, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

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TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada will change the way it fills vacancies on its top court, letting qualified lawyers and judges nominate themselves for Supreme Court openings and using a nonpartisan advisory board to recommend candidates, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday.

There is a looming vacancy on the nine-member Supreme Court, with Justice Thomas Cromwell announcing he will retire in September, giving Trudeau his first chance to appoint a member of the court since becoming prime minister last November.

Supreme Court justices in Canada are picked by the prime minister. The prime minister's appointments do not require parliamentary approval, in contrast to the required Senate confirmation for appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The change, announced in a government press release, creates a new system for determining candidates for the court. Justices can serve until the court's mandatory retirement age of 75.

The move by Canada's Liberal government, elected last year, is aimed at making the selection process more transparent, Trudeau wrote in a column in the Globe and Mail newspaper on Tuesday.

"The process used to appoint Supreme Court justices is opaque, outdated, and in need of an overhaul," Trudeau wrote.

"Gone are the days of governments - Liberal and Conservative alike - nominating Supreme Court justices through a secretive backroom process."

While the selection of Supreme Court judges in Canada has traditionally been less political than in the United States, there have been controversies. In 2014, the Supreme Court rejected then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper's pick of Marc Nadon in a high-profile clash, saying Nadon was not qualified.

Trudeau said the independent and nonpartisan advisory board will be chaired by former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Kim Campbell.

Once potential justices have applied for consideration and a shortlist of candidates has been compiled, the justice minister will consult with other levels of government, various parliamentary committees and opposition politicians, Trudeau wrote. The eventual nominee will appear in a question-and-answer session moderated by a law professor before legislators from all parties.

Supreme Court appointments have become highly politicized in the United States. The nine-member U.S. high court has had a vacancy since the death of a justice in February because the Republican-led Senate has refused to take any action on Democratic President Barack Obama's nominee to the position.

(Reporting by Ethan Lou in Toronto; Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Will Dunham)

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