This month’s cover story, “Snakes & Ladders: Provincial court edition,” looks at the state of Canada’s provincial courts, where more than 95 per cent of criminal cases end up. Reporter Shannon Kari talked to chief judges and justices across the country and the sense you get from what they had to say is: There are a lot of issues that we’re facing, but we’re also being creative in looking at ways of dealing with them. Resource pressures, including funding, will likely never go away, but that’s not stopping court administrators from addressing problems and working towards providing access to justice, administering an efficient and fair court system, and providing appropriate outcomes for defendants.
As the article notes, half of the cases that end up in provincial court are property or administration of justice offences, and many of the people facing such charges are chronic offenders who often have mental health issues. The aim of many chief judges and justices, therefore, is trying to figure out how to deal with the whole health of the person in order to divert them from the justice system. As Alberta Chief Judge Terrence Matchett says, “by the time we get to them, they are in the emergency ward of the justice system.” Tough-on-crime agendas that put more people in prison isn’t the answer, according to many of the judges in the trenches. As Matchett notes on the use of mental health courts and more holistic resolutions to these types of crimes: “We need to do a better job of explaining why restorative options in certain cases will make the community safer.”
Saskatchewan Chief Judge James Plemel also points out it’s important to consider defendants’ backgrounds when imposing conditions for probation or conditional sentence orders. If there’s pretty much no chance that a person can or will comply with the orders, then they’ll just end up back in court and what’s the point? That clogs up the courts and doesn’t do much for the individuals either, says Plemel.
In last month’s issue, we profiled British Columbia Provincial Court Chief Judge Thomas Crabtree, who in April hosted the first Twitter chat by a sitting chief judge. His continued commitment to engage with the community to help everyone understand the justice system, as well as build trust with the public, points to a new and even more public role that heads of the courts can take.
The cover story details many initiatives and ideas these judicial leaders are testing and putting into action. They are not, of course, flawless and there are failures and roadblocks, but there is so much interesting activity going on in provincial courts across the country. While they’re not unsung heroes, the judges and administrators of the provincial courts deserve more attention for their great work and we hope our article gives them some of that.
Congratulations are in order
At this year’s Canadian Business Media Awards, handed out in of June, frequent contributor Mark Cardwell was honoured with a Gold Award in the “news” category for his Canadian Lawyer November-December 2015 article “The Bâtonnière Who Fell From Grace” about Lu Chan Khuong’s controversial stint as head of the Barreau du Québec.
The magazine also received three honourable mentions for Jim Middlemiss’ Back Page column, the “Retirement: Dare to dream” cover art, and Kirk Makin’s article “Derailed” about the career effects faced by Elizabeth DeMerchant and Darren Sukonick in light of their 10-year battle with the Law Society of Upper Canada.
So congratulations to all the nominees and the great writers, illustrators, and staff who fill and deliver these pages to our readers every month.