North Island NDP MLA Claire Trevena says “administrative” changes in B.C.’s court management system designed to reduce the backlog of criminal cases do not go far enough to address years of damage.
This week Attorney General Shirley Bond launched a new court management system designed to improve efficiency including the establishment of a new oversight organization.
Trevena told the Mirror: “We need to ensure the tangible support is there; that we have the resources and the judges in place. The judiciary has been stumbling along with many cases being dismissed because of court delays.”
NDP justice critic Leonard Krog (Nanaimo) has repeatedly pointed to a reduction of 16 provincial court judges since 2005.
As well, the recent imposition of a government-wide hiring freeze has slowed the replacement of prosecutors, sheriffs and court clerks, because each new hire requires approval from the head of the public service.
Bond has questioned why waiting time in courts goes up even when the crime rate and the number of new cases declines.
The government reports that over the past six years the crime rate has dropped 33 per cent.
Yet, expenditures on adult criminal justice personnel and processes have increased by 35 per cent.
The changes Bond has implemented are based on a review of the system conducted by lawyer Geoffrey Cowper who blamed the problem, in part, on defence lawyers who have an incentive to delay cases.
Trevena says the issue reminds her of the tragic case of a Quadra Island dog killing in 2008 that was dismissed in February 2011 because it had been delayed.
Provincial Court Judge Peter Doherty issued a stay of proceedings on charges of killing an animal and careless use of a firearm.
The accused had pleaded not guilty to both charges. His defence lawyer said his client lost his job, faced threats and intimidation and was penalized financially due to charges and the ongoing delays.
At the time Judge Doherty blamed the delays on a shortage of judges for the North Island region.
Bond said the government will begin implementing the “activities” including: “Establish a new governance structure, develop an annual Justice and Public Safety Plan, hold a regular Justice Summit and create better administrative management tools that will help enhance transparency and accountability within the system.”
But Trevena said: “These are just administrative changes after many years of cuts and damage to the court system.”