The Manitoba government said it plans to introduce changes to the Provincial Court Act this spring to create a senior judge program.
“Senior judge programs make use of the services of retired judges to supplement existing judicial resources,” said Premier Greg Selinger in the annoucement Monday. “A senior judge program would add capacity and flexibility to the judicial services the court can provide, and could support the court’s ability to be more accessible outside of traditional business hours.”
Using the services of retired judges would allow for bail hearings with judges at the Provincial Court on the weekend.
The announcement met with a positive reaction from provincial court Chief Judge Ken Champagne, who said the initiative will help diffuse potential backlogs and give the courts more flexibility.
“A senior judge program is a positive step towards increasing access to justice for all Manitobans,” said Champagned. “This new initiative will increase access to justice and promote public confidence in the administration of justice.”
The proposed legislation will allow retired judges to return to the bench to serve as needed, said Selinger. In addition to weekend bail hearings, their services can be drawn upon in a variety of circumstances such as a maternity leave or extended sick leave of a sitting judge.
Provincial court judges handle bail hearings, preliminary hearings, trials involving youth, all trials of less serious offences and many trials of more serious offences where people choose a trial in the provincial court. More than 95 per cent of criminal cases go through this level of court.