Leading members of Quebec’s legal community are applauding the $1 billion that the provincial government set aside in this week’s budget for projects aimed at modernizing the justice system.
“It’s an historic and timely investment,” Paul-Matthieu Grondin, bâtonnier (president) of the Barreau du Québec tells Legal Feeds.
“Everyone I’ve spoken with is happy. It just wasn’t an option for us to stay in the 1970s.”
In the budget, which was announced on Tuesday, Quebec’s justice department remains the poor cousin of major ministries with a 1.3-per-cent share of the $108 billion that the Quebec government plans to spend in the coming year.
That roughly $1 billion amount, which is used to pay for all salaries and operating costs for the administration of justice ion Quebec, has remained unchanged for the past decade.
But the budget also earmarks an additional $1 billion in new spending for two major modernization projects for the justice ministry.
Quebec will notably spend $500 million over the next five years to computerize the province’s justice system.
Another $580 million will be spent under the province’s infrastructure plan to renovate and refurbish the province’s courthouses, many of which are in serious need of repair.
“The Quebec government recognizes the importance of transforming the justice system in its Plan économique du Québec 2018-2019,” Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée wrote in a tweet about the computerization program following the budget’s release. “A more innovative and efficient justice for the benefit of all!”
A press release from Vallée’s office said the minister will announce details of the three-pronged plan in April.
One of Quebec’s top judges, however, was quick to praise the new program.
“We haven’t seen spending like this in a long time in Quebec,” Superior Court of Quebec Chief Justice Jacques Fournier told Le Journal de Montrèal after the budget was announced.
“It’s certain that computerizing our way of working will reduce delays.”
For his part, Grondin said this week’s budget will help tackle two of the most urgent problems facing Quebec’s justice system.
He listed those problems — and called for a massive increase in government spending to rectify them — in a press conference on March 1.
“The justice system has been ignored for too long,” Grondin said then, referring to a 37-page report from a committee he struck after being elected bâtonnier last spring to look at the effects of the anemic levels of financing for Quebec’s justice system over the past 15 years.
The report found that the lack of spending has resulted in paper-based and physically outdated and even decrepit courthouses “that operate in the stone age,” said Grondin, as well as a justice system in all fields — from civil and criminal to family law — that users describe as “archaic,” “outdated” and “slow.”
“Someone from the 1980s would feel completely at home in our courthouses,” said Grondin, who presented a wish list of more than $1 billion in new spending that he said was urgently needed.
Grondin said his public appeal “likely helped” Vallée convince her cabinet colleagues on the need to make major investments in the justice system.
“But all the credit really goes to the justice minister,” says Grondin, adding that he has a close working relationship with Vallée. “She’s the one who fought for this inside government.”
Grondin says that despite the new spending, he and the Barreau will continue to push for increased monies for the justice system in Quebec.
“This budget is a great start and we'll be working collaboratively with government to make these projects a success,” he says. “But we will keep fighting for more funding for the justice system.”