In February, then Coast Reporter staff writer Ben Ingram spent several weeks looking at the pros and cons of a troubling and failing justice system.
The people he talked to painted a pretty dark picture of what was a legal system in peril. It was not just a shortage of judges to try cases in a timely fashion, but a lack of court staff in general.
The provincial government around that same time appointed nine new judges, but according to Chief Justice Robert Bauman, full-time equivalent staff positions dropped from 1,430 in 2008 to 1,217 in B.C. at present. Between that time and this coming fiscal year, the Court Services’ budget will have been slashed by 10 per cent unless some serious changes are implemented.
Fewer cases are being heard in the courts. In fact, last year, there were 13,000 fewer cases heard than in 2001. And despite lower crime rates, more than $1 billion of resources are making their way into the justice system annually.
So what is the problem? For one, judicial stays to cases, due to delays, doubled from 56 to 109 in the province. That’s a telling statistic and shows that despite all the money in the world, we have a system that is broken and in need of a fix.
So the provincial government and Minister of Justice and Attorney General Shirley Bond appointed Geoffrey Cowper to serve as chair of a system review. He served on the commission into the death of Frank Paul. Cowper worked these past few months to provide a report documenting the challenges that all levels of the court system are facing in this province.
His findings were released this week and we’re impressed with the initial steps that have been taken.
The steps include seeking programs aimed at reducing backlog, improving access to justice services and increasing transparency — all things that we uncovered during our story back in February.
To arrive at these conclusions and suggested changes, Cowper held extensive stakeholder consultation and gathered input from the public.
Most in the legal system, according to news reports, appear to be happy with the findings and the steps moving forward. We all recognize that more work needs to be done, but at least something is happening.
We have been one of many in the past who have scolded the provincial government for a poor and inadequate justice system — a system that rewards the criminals more than the victims, but this is a clear step towards a better system for all and government should be praised for listening and taking action.