Health care. Education. The HST. There’s no shortage of hot-button issues clamouring for government attention as a possible provincial election looms.
But there’s an elephant in the room, one that has been ailing for nearly a decade. B.C.’s legal system is in big trouble.
Provincial funding cuts dating back to 2003 have reduced the number of sitting judges, fuelling a trial backlog that increasingly lets criminals go free because of unconstitutional delays.
The result? More than 2,100 cases are now at risk of being tossed out of court due to waits that threaten to violate the accused’s right to be tried within a reasonable time.
Savvy defence lawyers are exploiting the dysfunction in the system to their advantage.
Accused criminals—some charged with serious crimes such as impaired driving causing bodily harm—are getting away scot-free. But perhaps the hardest hit are the victims —regular people impacted by crime and relying on a deteriorating legal system.
The verdict on the possibility of a quick fix is grim. February’s provincial budget approved another $14.5 million in cuts to the judicial system for 2011-12, followed by a funding freeze for the next two years, until 2014.
This despite the fact a tax on legal services—originally created to support legal aid—funnels $145 million each year into the province’s general revenues.
Aside from health care, one would be hard-pressed to identify an issue that cuts across all walks of life and has, directly or indirectly, affected nearly everyone.
If Premier Christy Clark is serious about her “Putting Families First” platform, fixing B.C.’s debilitated justice system must be among her top priorities.