Underfunding has resulted in about 15 per cent of staff in B.C.'s court services branch being cut since 2005.

Embattled courts on way to ‘tipping point’

Chief judge warns of threat to justice system from years of cuts

The top judge of the B.C. Supreme Court has issued a rare warning that the province’s justice system is critically threatened by years of government underfunding.

Chief Justice Robert Bauman, in a blunt Nov. 19 speech to B.C. lawyers in Las Vegas, used analogies like “going over the cliff in slow motion” to describe the danger looming from court congestion.

“Bring this issue to the attention of our fellow citizens and take whatever steps you can to defend and protect our judicial system,” he urged legal colleagues. “Once our institution is critically wounded it will never be the same again.”

Bauman likened court underfunding in B.C. to the forces of erosion, adding it is steadily approaching a “tipping point when that gradual, insidious process of incremental damage yields its dramatic finish – the structure is diminished and collapses.”

By next year, the court services budget will have been cut more than 10 per cent since 2008, with overall staff down about 15 per cent.

Bauman said there is a limit to the system’s ability to cope with restraint, adding the cutbacks that are yet to come are “cuts to the bone.”

Numerous accused criminals, often impaired drivers, have already walked free because of judicial stays of proceeding after the case took too long to go to trial due to court delays.

The shortage of provincial court judges – 17 fewer now hear cases than in 2005 – have led to criminal case backlogs so long, he noted, even an accused cocaine trafficker had his case quashed this fall after a 42-month delay.

Court sometimes can’t proceed because no clerk is available, Bauman noted.

A shortage of court registry staff has delayed the processing of court orders by up to six months in some cities, he said.

And he called the reduction in sheriffs earlier this year – since rescinded – a “glaring example” of court underfunding that led to criminal trial delays and never should have happened.

Legal aid funding has dropped to “almost nil” in civil and family cases, Bauman added, even though close to 20 per cent of litigants are self-represented.

“Without additional resourcing, the court’s traditional and essential role in maintaining societal order is being eroded and degraded,” Bauman warned.

NDP leader Adrian Dix called it a “very significant” warning on the state of the courts.

“When you have people like serious cocaine dealers who are not being tried because of court delays, that’s a serious problem for confidence in our justice system.”

Just Posted

Gas prices in Metro Vancouver hit 172.9 cents a litre

And one analyst expects it to only go higher this week

PHOTO: Pollination time

Hyacinths attract bees looking for pollen

Chilliwack school board making effort to foster better relationships

Board reaching out to parents via dinner event, and online forum

Rainfall warning: Up to 70 mm expected across Fraser Valley

Environment Canada issued a weather warning heading into the long weekend

Sardis Library hosting Star Wars-themed escape room

Participants asked to summon the force for week-long attraction

Easter bombings a response to New Zealand attacks, says Sri Lanka minister

The Islamic State group asserted it was responsible for the nine bombings

New commemorative loonie marking ‘progress’ for LGBTQ2 people to be unveiled today

But advocates say it mistakenly suggests equality has been achieved largely as a result of government actions

B.C. VIEWS: NDP’s lawyer show is turning into a horror movie

Court actions pile up over pipelines, car insurance, care aides

Anti-SOGI activist slams ban on B.C. dad speaking out about transgender son’s case

A judge has told the father to stop publicly objecting to his son’s gender

PHOTOS: Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says ‘I do’ on Earth Day

May and John Kidder got married Monday morning in Victoria

Victims injured in Lower Mainland deck collapse ranged from 15 to 83 years old

Victim Services staff have reached out to those hurt and their families

‘Ghost restaurants’ cooked up by Joseph Richard Group to meet demand of delivered food

The new Meal Ticket Brands venture aims to ‘disrupt’ the local restaurant industry

Sri Lanka invokes war-time military powers after nearly 300 killed in Easter bombings

Sri Lanka’s minister of tourism says 39 foreign tourists were killed in the Easter Sunday attacks

Torched SUV linked to Vancouver’s fourth homicide

Manoj Kumar, 30, was found dead from gunshot wounds in the Kitsilano neighbourhood

Most Read