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And he called the reduction in sheriffs earlier this year – since rescinded – a “glaring example” of court underfunding that led to criminal trial delays and never should have happened.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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Vernon Vipers’ Trey Taylor wins with Team West at CJHL Top Prospects game

17-year-old defenseman also makes NHL Central Scouting list of top prospects

Vernon watercolour artist returning to spotlight

Patricia Neil Lawton is holding her first art show in 5 years at Nadine’s Fine Art and Frames, Feb. 8

Cows, cars and more: Coldstream secondary students show off capstone projects

Kalamalka Secondary seniors displayed Career Life Connections capstone projects Jan. 15

Low-level meth dealer gets 6 months jail time in Vernon

BC Supreme Court Justice’s sentence concludes case related to June 2017 offence

Vernon perfect getaway for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, mayor says

Family-oriented community also home to Royal interests; film and helicopter industries

‘Like an ATM’: World’s first biometric opioid-dispensing machine launches in B.C.

First-of-its-kind dispensing machine unveiled in the Downtown Eastside with hopes of curbing overdose deaths

B.C. society calls out conservation officer after dropping off bear cub covered in ice

Ice can be seen in video matted into emaciated bear cub’s fur

Horgan cancels event in northern B.C. due to security concerns, says Fraser Lake mayor

The premier will still be visiting the city, but the location and day will not be made public

B.C. landlord sentenced to two years in jail for torching his own rental property

Wei Li was convicted of intentionally lighting his rental property on fire in October 2017

B.C. town spends $14.14 per resident for snow removal in one month

Costs of snow removal to the Town of Princeton skyrocketed in December.… Continue reading

PHOTOS: Eastern Newfoundland reeling, search underway for missing man after blizzard

More than 70 centimetres of new snow fell overnight, creating whiteout conditions

Prince Harry, Meghan to give up ‘royal highness’ titles

‘Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved members of my family,’ says Queen Elizabeth II

Photo reminds Salmon Arm resident of connection to former drama teacher Justin Trudeau

Prime minister remembered as being as a funny, larger-than-life person

Province says it is monitoring AIM’s road maintenance

The provincial transportation ministry is working closely with new road contractor AIM,… Continue reading

Most Read