Court system close to collapse

Drug dealers are walking free from clogged courts, while Ottawa gears up for more drug prosecutions.

Jury selection at B.C. Supreme Court: Chief Justice Robert Bauman has warned of a crisis in the making.

VICTORIA – One of the last exchanges in the B.C. legislature’s fall session was over the state of the court system.

Drug dealers are walking free, NDP leader Adrian Dix reminded Public Safety Minister Shirley Bond in the final question period. Dix referred to a Prince George case this fall where a convicted cocaine dealer racked up more trafficking charges while he was on trial, and then was released because he couldn’t be tried in a timely fashion.

The NDP was picking up on an unusually political speech last week by B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman. Speaking to the annual B.C. judges’ conference in Las Vegas, Bauman warned that funding cuts have the B.C. court system “going over a cliff in slow motion.”

The cuts are real. By next year, court service budgets are expected to be down 10 per cent since 2008, and staff down 15 per cent. The provincial court is down 17 judges from 2005. There aren’t enough clerks. And the federal government is about to push through new sentencing guidelines that will add more inmates to B.C.’s overflowing prison system.

Bond, the overworked B.C. Liberal minister doing double duty as Attorney General, replied that some of the budget cuts are being reversed. More sheriffs have been trained, and 14 provincial court judges have been hired in the past two years.

(Meanwhile, provincial judges are suing the deficit-laden government, demanding a six-per-cent raise.)

Bond also pointed to long-term strategies being implemented to relieve the flood of court cases. It’s this kind of systemic change that has the most potential for long-term reform of our archaic system.

Right now there are an estimated 2,000 cases in provincial court that are running long enough to risk being dismissed due to delays. It’s not a crime wave; a quarter of all cases in provincial and B.C. Supreme Court are family disputes over kids and property.

The Family Law Act has been in the works for years, and it sailed through the legislature with NDP support. It encourages out-of-court settlements in family breakups, equalizes common-law rules with those for married couples and does away with the terms “custody” and “access” that suggest children are to be fought over as if they are property.

Bond also pointed to B.C.’s harsh new administrative penalties for drinking and driving, which have kept most routine impaired cases out of court.

Police have the authority to impound vehicles and impose heavy fines on the spot, when drivers fail a roadside breath test or even blow in the “warn” range of 0.05 to 0.08 per cent. Bond points proudly to a 40-per-cent decrease in alcohol-related vehicle deaths in the first year.

Of course this is being challenged as an infringement of the right to go to court and try various drunk-driving defences. A judge will soon decide if the hazards of impaired driving justify such an infringement.

Justice Bauman acknowledges that courts have to clean up procedures too. Set aside the baseless conspiracy theories around the Dave Basi-Bobby Virk saga, and you have two small-time crooks whose lawyers were allowed to spin the case out for seven years in a tangle of evidence disclosure demands.

As the legislature adjourned, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson joined previous mayors, from Conservative Party member Sam Sullivan to Mike Harcourt, in calling for marijuana to be legalized and regulated.

Not on my watch, replied Prime Minister Stephen Harper. So instead, we’re getting de facto legalization of crack cocaine.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

Just Posted

Mattress Recycling lays down roots in Hope

The recycling firm—the largest of its kind in western Canada—has opened a facility in Hope

Development on the horizon for Harrison Hot Springs Marina

The property has been the subject of a number development proposals over the years

‘Big hearts and even bigger feet’: Comedian sends Harrison humour to the silver screen

Jonny Harris will see the town highlighted on his small-town comedy series ‘Still Standing’

‘Near zero visibility’ as fog blankets B.C.’s south coast

Environment Canada warns drivers to be careful

UPDATE: Domestic incident leads to double stabbing in Chilliwack

Robert Charles Fleming in custody after alleged assault at townhouse sending two to hospital

UK lawmakers reject Brexit deal in 432-202 vote

House of Commons votes against the deal struck between Britain’s government and the EU

Millennial Money: Don’t let Instagram envy get you into debt

A full 48 per cent of U.S. households have credit card debt

Jury debates fate of man accused of killing 12-year-old B.C. girl 40 years ago

Police allege Garry Handlen told a cop how he abducted, sexually assaulted and strangled Monica Jack in May 1978

Letters on way to all homeowners in B.C. speculation tax communities

Property owners have to register to avoid vacant-home tax

New orca calf in Salish Sea ‘healthy and active’

Birth cause for celebration but things still dire genetically, expert says

Good Samaritan rescues cat found in heaps of garbage at B.C. landfill

The cat was abandoned and left to die at the Foothills Boulevard Regional Landfill, the BC SPCA says

Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna home to Canada’s most expensive rentals: report

According to PadMapper, units in larger B.C. cities cost $1,300 to more than $3,000

Former MP Svend Robinson wants to return to politics

Robinson is expected to be acclaimed as the NDP candidate in the riding of Burnaby North-Seymour

Most Read