The Canadian Bar Association’s British Columbia branch says money and measurement are the keys to successful change in the province’s criminal justice system.
The B.C. branch struck a special committee to report to Geoffrey Cowper, the lawyer hired by the provincial government to carry out its Justice Reform Initiative, and delivered its assessment in a report titled “Justice in Time.”
“A key component of any change is that it is properly resourced to meet its goals and that it be properly measured to determine if it is successful,” wrote the committee. “While there are certainly efficiencies to be gained, the reality is that almost every justice system stakeholder is already doing more with less. It would be naive to think that further savings can be found in a review or overhaul of a system that has, for almost a decade, shouldered the responsibility for adjusting to more complex and more intricate cases and law.”
The CBA-BC highlighted three central causes of the “failure of timely justice in criminal matters:”
1. Systematic reduction in resources allocated to key players in the justice system, including cut-backs to the Legal Services Society, the Provincial Court judiciary, Crown prosecutors, court services, and correction services.
2. The increasing complexity of the law and criminal justice processes in general, and the impact of Charter litigation.
3. The closure or failure of mental health services and addictions facilities.
Among its 25 recommendations, the CBA-BC calls for a rethink of judicial and prosecutorial complements in the province.
While the number of judges has increased in the last decade, the CBA-BC says an increasing reliance on part-time senior judges, who do about 45 per cent of the work of their full-time counterparts, is actually decreasing judicial capacity. A legislated complement of full-time judges should be established and reviewed every couple of years, says the bar association.
In the Crown office, it says attrition policies have depleted the senior ranks of prosecutors, and that their younger replacements are not as efficient in their handling of criminal matters.
Hiring budgets must “reflect the need to attract and replace senior Crown with lawyers who have experience beyond the entry level,” says the CBA-BC submission.
In addition, itnrecommends an immediate increase legal aid funding, the establishment of videoconferencing facilities to increase access to the courts in rural areas, and investment in mental health programs that provide alternatives to the criminal justice system.
The CBA-BC also calls for the creation of a bench and bar committee to draw up a list of guidelines and best practices in Charter applications, acknowledging that “Charter arguments have become significantly more complicated and take a considerable amount of time to hear and decide.”
“This has resulted in increased length of both trials and pre-trial hearings. Further, these delays are encroaching on the time when judges have been scheduled to start new trials,” says the submission.