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And he called the reduction in sheriffs earlier this year – since rescinded – a “glaring example” of court underfunding that led to criminal trial delays and never should have happened.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

Heavy snowfall expected on Coquihalla

Snow forecast for mountain highways

Four-day closure at Rutland/Acland Roads

Kelowna city crews will be building a roundabout at the new intersection

Day of Remembrance honours road traffic victims

People killed or seriously injured on Canadian roads remembered Sunday in Kelowna

Community Leader Awards: Coach Dean Kennedy

Kelowna Capital News Leader of the Year series on those that give back to the community

Snowfall warning between Merritt and Hope

As much as 20 centimteres of the white stuff is expected along a stretch of the Coquhialla

Drones used in search for clues about missing women

A volunteer search party was supported by professional drone operators

Forecast calls for a snowy Canadian winter

Canadians told to brace for a ‘classic’ Canadian winter with lots of snow

Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip celebrate 70th anniversary

The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh are celebrating their platinum wedding anniversary

Charles Manson, leader of murderous ’60s cult, dead at 83

Charles Manson, whose cult slayings horrified world, dies

‘An officer and a gentleman’: Const. John Davidson is laid to rest

Thousands attend memorial service for slain Abbotsford Police officer

Holiday campaign helps Okanagan seniors

London Drugs’ Stocking Stuffers for Seniors Campaign kicks off Monday, Nov. 20

Making a difference at Okanagan Boys and Girls Club

Kelowna company president rolls up sleeves with local organization

Letter: Is it time to privative ICBC and BC Hydro?

West Kelowna letter-writer says it’s time the government gives up control of the corporations

VIDEO: Coquihalla reopens near Merritt

Detours are available via Hwy. 8 and Hwy. 1

Most Read