New judges aim to cut court backlog

Attorney General Shirley Bond - Black Press
Attorney General Shirley Bond
— image credit: Black Press

VICTORIA – The B.C. government is appointing nine new provincial court justices and launching a pilot project to reduce the wait time for hearing child protection cases.

Attorney General Shirley Bond announced Tuesday that two judges will be assigned to work with Chief Judge Thomas Crabtree on the child protection case management project this spring, and a second pilot program to reduce criminal court waiting times.

Two of the new judges will be assigned to Surrey, the busiest provincial court in the province. One each will go to Port Coquitlam, North Vancouver, Vancouver, Kamloops-Okanagan and the Northeast district.

The changes are based on a review of B.C. court delays by lawyer Geoffrey Cowper, who called for a system to enforce timely hearings of evidence, to overcome a "culture of delay" and a tendency of defence lawyers to seek delays that weaken the prosecution case.

The B.C. Crown Counsel Association has also identified Nanaimo and Richmond as having excessive delays. Association president Samiran Lakshman said in Surrey, it takes 14 months or more to schedule a half a day for a brief trial.

Bond said the extra judges bring the B.C. total to 132 full-time-equivalent, with each judge and support staff costing $1.6 million a year.

"The addition of nine new judges and the backlog reduction projects – and specifically the assignment of judicial resources to those projects – sign a shared understanding by all parties that changes need to be made to improve the justice system," Bond said.

Cowper noted that 98 per cent of criminal cases end with a guilty plea or a stay of proceedings, but the system treats all cases as if they are going to trial. The number of cases dropped significantly after B.C. police started imposing heavy roadside penalties for impaired driving instead of sending suspects to court.

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