Modernizing British Columbia’s justice system

By Shirley Bond
Minister of Justice and Attorney General

VICTORIA – A well-functioning justice system is fundamental to our democracy. British Columbians trust those who manage the system to ensure justice and safety are of paramount importance. While significant progress has been made in recent years, there are some fundamental questions that need to be addressed.

As Minister of Justice and Attorney General, I am concerned about the fact that judicial stays of proceedings grew in the past year, while the total number of criminal cases declined. Although judicial stays account for just one-tenth of one per cent of all criminal cases last year, this is an issue I take very seriously.

Our government continues to invest critical resources, spending over $1 billion annually on our public safety and justice system. We have appointed
23 judges in the past two years, and there will be 58 additional sheriffs who will have graduated and will be working in B.C. courthouses by April. Our changes to the Family Law Act will also help to alleviate pressures on the system, moving more cases into mediation and out of the courts.

The crime rate in British Columbia has fallen 33 per cent over the past six years. The length of adult and youth criminal cases has remained stable, and there were thousands fewer new provincial court cases heard in 2010 than 10 years ago. So, why are costs and delays rising as crime drops?

As well, there have been a number of streamlining innovations and advancements in the use of technology within the justice system – all aimed at making improvements in the court system. While these initiatives have been helpful, more innovation and reform is needed.

It is clear that a deeper examination is also needed. Government will not blindly pour more resources into the justice system without first understanding the problems and identifying feasible solutions. That is why we recently launched a comprehensive justice reform initiative.

We have appointed Geoffrey Cowper, QC, one of Canada’s most respected litigators, to conduct a critical review of our justice system. In order to review B.C.’s criminal charge assessment process, we have engaged Gary McCuaig, QC, to determine whether it is the most effective model for making prosecution decisions.

We have also asked the Legal Services Society, B.C.’s government-funded, independent legal aid provider, to conduct a thorough examination of B.C.’s legal aid system and look for ways of achieving efficiencies.

I’d like to invite all British Columbians to read our recently released Green Paper, Modernizing B.C.’s Justice System, which represents our current thinking on the justice system in our province. It reflects existing and anticipated reform initiatives and it outlines challenges in the system that will form the basis for Mr. Cowper’s comprehensive review.

Given the importance of this issue for British Columbians, government is making this work a top priority for the Ministry of Justice. Mr. Cowper will provide his final report in July 2012. We will then identify where action can be taken to improve the justice system.

Government makes up just one part of the system – a system comprised of many interconnected and largely independent members. While respecting their independence, we will consult with the judiciary, Crown counsel, the legal profession, police and others to identify the areas of the justice system that can be improved upon.

Through open and constructive dialogue, I am hopeful we can break down impediments that stand in the way of a more efficient justice system under the rule of law. This will enable us to find long-term, fiscally responsible solutions that will help make our justice system more efficient, transparent and accessible for all British Columbians.