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And he called the reduction in sheriffs earlier this year – since rescinded – a “glaring example” of court underfunding that led to criminal trial delays and never should have happened.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

Mayors welcome rideshare expansion into Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge

As of Thursday, Lyft is now offering service throughout Metro Vancouver

Maple Ridge Return-It centre serves as pilot for new beverage recycling effort

Haney Bottle Depot will be part of a six-month trial where consumers don’t have to sort their cans

Foundation seeks to bring ‘meaningful’ art to Hammond

Asking Maple Ridge residents for suggestions on design and theme for two large community murals

Pitt Meadows one step closer to developing North Lougheed Study Area

City council endorsed the revised NLSA land use plan on Tuesday, July 7

B.C. identifies 20 new COVID-19 cases, travellers specified in count

Pandemic total 3,028 cases, 51 people from outside Canada

Survey, hotline launched amid probe into racist blood-alcohol guessing game at B.C. hospital

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has been appointed to lead an investigation by Health Minister Adrian Dix

Canadian policing organization calls for decriminalization of simple illicit drug possession

Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police want policing focus of opioid crisis to be replaced with a health one

Filing deadline in RCMP sexual-harassment class-action extended due to COVID-19

Plaintiffs now have until January 2021 to submit claims for up to $222,000

Jamie Bacon pleads guilty to charge in Surrey Six case

The plea brings an end to a complex legal case that has spanned more than a decade

Hefty undeclared driver charges piling up, ICBC warns customers

Average extra penalty $2,971 after an at-fault accident

B.C. appeals judge’s decision to leave three clubhouses in Hells Angels hands

The province has filed two notices of appeal related to the B.C. Supreme Court decision

Conservation officers relocate Spirit bear known to roam northwestern B.C.

Bear roamed valley north of Terrace for many years

B.C. premier applauds call to decriminalize drug possession

Police shouldn’t struggle with health issues, Horgan says

Most Read