Provincial court backlog threatens thousands of cases

Nanaimo NDP MLA and attorney general critic Leonard Krog is calling on the province to hire more judges.

Nanaimo NDP MLA and attorney general critic Leonard Krog is calling on the province to hire more judges in light of the number of cases at risk of being thrown out due to unreasonable delay.

Numbers recently released from the Provincial Court of B.C. show there are now 125.65 full-time provincial court judges – down from 143.65 in 2005.

And as of Sept. 30, the provincial court lists 2,522 cases pending for more than 18 months, or 18 per cent of total provincial court cases pending – up from 2,038 in 2010, when a provincial court report warned that delays threaten to quash thousands of criminal cases.

“It’s getting worse and worse and worse,” said Krog. “The real crisis is to be found in the number of cases going past 18 months.”

The problem is charges could be stayed after the 18-month marker, as the Supreme Court of Canada decided waiting this long for trial violates a person’s rights, he said.

In 2011, 109 youth and adult criminal cases were stayed due to unreasonable delay, compared with 56 in 2010 and 44 in 2009.

“All of the police work has been wasted, all of the work by the Crown has been wasted, all of the court time up until that time has been wasted,” said Krog. “That’s money out of pocket for which [taxpayers] will see absolutely no benefit. It’s like making a cake and then never baking it.”

Nanaimo defence lawyer Clint Sadlemyer said while Nanaimo is not one of the worst jurisdictions in the province, people are still waiting a long time.

“We often just have one courtroom open,” he said. “Our backlog is getting near the tipping point. We’ve got trials set so far into the future.”

Sadlemyer said he knows of cases in Nanaimo courtrooms where delays have resulted in the Crown choosing not to continue pursuing charges – rather than using more court time to have a judge stay the matter when an unreasonable delay application is pending – or taking a plea to a lesser offence.

He predicts the number of cases stayed will double this year if nothing is done to remedy the situation.

“We need more court staff, more sheriffs, more prosecutors and more judges,” said Sadlemyer.

Earlier this year, the province hired two new sheriffs to work in Nanaimo. At the time, Nanaimo lawyers said that a shortage of sheriffs sometimes delayed court proceedings.

Attorney General Shirley Bond said in an e-mailed response that Krog has failed to include any “reasonable or costed solution” for paying for additional judges.

The province has appointed 14 new judges over the last two years and recruited new sheriffs where courts have needed additional resources, she said, but while the province believes additional resources are important, so is investigating opportunities for reform, such as moving disputes out of courtrooms where appropriate and using technology to make court processes as efficient as possible.

 

u 18 — fewer provincial court judges as of Dec. 31, compared with 2005 levels

u 109 — youth and adult criminal cases stayed in 2011 due to unreasonable delay, compared with 44 in 2009

u 8 — months to the next available trial date for a half-day adult criminal case trial from when a trial is ordered, or 9 months for a two-day adult criminal trial

u 16 — months until the next available trial date for two-day child protection trial or two-day family trial, from the first appearance date

u 7.8 — number of full-time judges in the North Vancouver Island District at present, compared with 8.8 judges in 2005. The Provincial Court of B.C. estimates that this number will fall to 6.15 after Jan. 31 due to judges electing to become senior judges at part-time hours

Source: Provincial Court of B.C. and Ministry of Attorney General

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