Sunday, May 24, 2009

Manitoba's judicial system verging on disrepute?

"... when we do not allow for sufficient resources to handle these incredible complex and serious, we run the risk of bringing the administration of justice in disrepute - Provincial court Chief Justice Ray Wyant" (Free Press Archives)

More cases, not enough judges
Chief judge says province ignoring crisis
By: Bruce Owen
ay 23, 2009

WINNIPEG — Manitoba's top provincial court judge has blasted the Doer government for ignoring the growing crisis of too few judges to sit and hear cases in an ever-increasing backlogged provincial court system.
In his last annual report as chief judge, Ray Wyant pulls no punches, saying Manitoba's criminal justice system is stretched almost to the breaking point -- and there's a risk some cases could be dropped due to unreasonable delay.
"I only think it's going to get worse," Wyant said in an interview. "It's absolutely critical. I think we've made our case, but obviously the decision is beyond our control at this time."
Wyant said in his 2007-08 annual report there has been only one judge added to the bench during his seven years as chief judge, despite significant increases to the numbers of police on the street and Crown attorneys in the courtroom.
"We all support public safety and we all applaud when more police are on the street and more prosecutors are there to prosecute offenders," he said in the report.
"But those initiatives generate more work and when we do not allow for sufficient resources to handle these incredibly complex and serious cases, we run the risk of bringing the administration of justice in disrepute."
Wyant also said in his term as chief judge -- he steps down July 9 to return to the courtroom -- he has urged the government to set up a system where retired judges can be hired on a temporary basis when full-time judges are busy with cases, inquests or are on vacation or leave.
While one judge added to the court in Thompson brought the provincial judicial count to 41 during his tenure, Wyant said the number of judges was still insufficient to deal with the spike in criminal and child-protection cases that came from an increase in front-line law-enforcement resources.
"The result is that backlogs can grow and the administration of justice is being poorly served as cases run the risk of being unresolved due to unreasonable delay," Wyant said in his report. "We are already experiencing a significant inability to find the necessary court time for serious multi-day criminal cases and important multi-day child-protection cases to be heard in a timely fashion in the provincial court."
Many criminal cases are gang-related with multiple offenders, which add to the complexity of how cases are tried. Plus, many cases now involve pretrial motions under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which further complicates matters.
Attorney General Dave Chomiak said he's aware of the demands facing the courts, adding the province is working on a solution that would possibly include a senior judge program.
He would say what's specifically being discussed as it's still a work in progress.
Wyant said Manitoba is the only province other than Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador that does not have a relief judge system.
Tory justice critic Kelvin Goertzen said the province has known about the problem for years as Wyant has raised it in earlier annual reports but has still done nothing.
"The justice system only works if every link in the chain is together," Goertzen said.
He said the backlog created by too few judges means more offenders are sitting in remand at the Winnipeg Remand Centre or Headingley Correctional Centre, which drives up costs.
These delays also lessen the deterrent impact of sentencing as the dates of arrest and conviction, in many cases, are now far apart.


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