Calgary lawyer weighs in on alleged prosecutor shortage

Some people who work in the judicial system are reacting to Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson's comments that the Alberta justice system is suffering from a lack of Crown prosecutors.

Defence lawyer says Ottawa's tough-on-crime bills are causing problems in court system

Reaction to Airdrie MLA Rob Anderson's comments in the legislature Thursday 2:01

Some people who work in the judicial system are reacting to Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson’s comments.

On Thursday in the legislature, Anderson claimed a shortage of Crown prosecutors led to dropped charges for a man accused in the sexual assault of an Airdrie woman.

The woman, who spoke to the CBC, says she agrees with Anderson.

Greg Dunn, a defence lawyer in Calgary, says so-called tough-on-crime laws from Ottawa are taxing existing resources. (CBC)

Greg Dunn, a defence lawyer in Calgary, says so-called tough-on-crime laws from Ottawa and additional offences from Edmonton are resulting in more cases going to trial.

He says that's taxing existing resources, so it means more judges and Crown attorneys are needed.

"You want to pass legislation, you better be able to put the finances behind it to enforce it," said Dunn. 

"Don't pass legislation that you can't enforce and then blame it on the defence counsel or blame it on the accused who are just defending themselves."

He says the new laws have greatly changed the landscape of court proceedings.

Minimum sentences can cause delays

"They don't have enough crown prosecutors because they prosecute way more offences," Dunn explained.

"They’re resolving a lot less and there's less abilities because of the laws of defence and crown to be able to resolve things because you have minimum sentences, so you create a system in which there's no room for negotiation, there's no room for resolution, there's no room for any mobility and everything gets set down for trial and everything goes to trial."

Premier Alison Redford told reporters on Friday she rejects the notion that the Airdrie case was dropped because of growing court delays or a shortage of Crown attorneys.

"Certainly not, and the one thing I do understand that the assistant deputy minister of prosecutions said yesterday was that on his first look at this that this was not an issue with respect to resources," she said. 

"But really until we know what is going on, I'm not going to comment any further on this."

Greg Lepp, associate deputy minister of justice, said the judge's decision to dismiss the charges cannot be appealed.

He said delays were caused by bad weather, illness prevented witnesses from attending court and new evidence came forward.

"The charges are finished and there is no way of breathing life back into them," Lepp said Friday from Edmonton.

Charges can’t be appealed

"The prosecutor who was responsible for this case did not disagree with the defence that it had taken too long, and in the final result the Crown did not oppose the application to have the charges terminated because that is what the law provided."

Under the Charter of Rights an accused has the right to a trial within a reasonable amount of time.

The girl's mother said Thursday her daughter is very upset that charges have been dropped.

"She was very angry. She wanted to go out and help other people and tell them the right thing to do is to go to court and charge these people, don't let them get away with it. And now what can she tell them? She's devastated. What does she do now?"

Lepp said the delays shouldn't have happened and the alleged victim has a right to be frustrated.

He added that the government is conducting a review in the hope that it doesn't happen again.

Lepp also said a shortage of prosecutors had nothing to do with the charges being dismissed.

"I really hope the public doesn't conclude from this result that we don't take these allegations as seriously as we should," he said.

"This is very disappointing for the prosecution service. We prosecute 10s of thousands of criminal charges a year. A very, very small number end up like this one did."

With files from The Canadian Press