A "lack of resources" has led to charges being stayed against 15 people accused of crimes ranging from possession of a dangerous weapon to assault of a peace officer, Edmonton's chief Crown prosecutor said Tuesday.

Shelley Bykewich told court she was requesting the stays because of "an inability to prosecute" the cases.

In total, the provincial court judge approved the suspension of more than 40 charges in total, including two of impaired driving, two of assaulting a peace officer, and other offenses such as fraud, uttering threats and theft.

"This is likely not going to be the only time," said Bykewich.

The move follows a Supreme Court decision last summer that put limits on the "reasonable" length of time for a criminal case to be completed.

Court of Queen's Bench case trials must now be concluded within 30 months, and provincial court matters within 18 months, with an extension to 30 months if the case includes a preliminary inquiry.

Defence lawyers can file what are called Jordan applications, named for the Supreme Court decision, to suspend cases that face unreasonable delays.

Alberta Justice says the stays filed Tuesday were not related to Jordan applications but due to the "triage process." 

Still, the court system is facing additional challenges due to these new limits. 

As of Feb. 28, lawyers in Alberta had filed 61 Jordan applications to suspend cases due to unreasonable delays. In six of those cases the stays were granted. Eleven applications still need to be dealt with. The remaining cases were abandoned by the defence, resolved or stayed by the Crown. 

Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said the province is actively recruiting to fill the four Crown prosecutor vacancies in Wetaskiwin and the eight to 10 vacancies in Edmonton. There will soon be a drive to recruit new clerks. 

Ganley cited the ongoing budget process as the reason why she could not say if she asked for more money. But she said the stays are "concerning."

"We never want a victim to see the person they have accused walk free not because of a trial but because of a technical, procedural requirement," she said. 

More money needed 

The provincial government should immediately earmark more funding to hire additional Crown prosecutors, Bob Walsh, Edmonton Police Association vice-president, said in an email statement.

"Our members work very diligently doing their investigations, which can be very convoluted and time consuming, along with taking up a fair bit of resources both internal and external," Walsh said.

"The feeling is not very comfortable, with knowing that criminals are being released or not tried due to lack of prosecutors. If I were the victim of a crime, I would be outraged at the hours of police resources and other agencies resources going into investigations to remove criminals from our streets to make them safer, yet they get to walk away with no consequences."

"They need more money for prosecutors and personnel, and if they don't get that kind of increased budget there will be more of this to come." - Defence lawyer Dino Bottos

Similarly, in an emailed statement, Edmonton Police Services said "we feel for the victims in these cases" and expressed concern for "the reputation of the criminal justice system with the public."

But EPS said the decision came as no surprise as Alberta Justice indicated prosecutions would be triaged to address the backlog.

Police said they remained committed to public safety through the prevention, intervention and the suppression of crime.

"Our police officers work very hard in responding to calls from the community, gathering evidence and laying appropriate charges," reads the statement. "Ultimately, all files are passed onto the Crown for prosecution. The EPS respects the Crown's decisions on how files are handled in court."

As of Feb. 28, lawyers in Alberta had filed 61 Jordan applications to suspend cases due to unreasonable delays. In six of those cases the stays were granted. Eleven applications still need to be dealt with. The remaining cases were abandoned by the defence, resolved or stayed by the Crown. 

Bykewich described Tuesday's development as a "big issue" brought to light by the Jordan court decision, noting the 14.5 per cent vacancy rate in the Edmonton Crown prosecutors' office and a shortage of court clerks.

Criminal defence lawyer Dino Bottos also called for a boost in government funds to hire more prosecutors.

"The Crown is making a political statement that they need more money," Bottos said. "They need more money for prosecutors and personnel, and if they don't get that kind of increased budget there will be more of this to come."

Bottos said the public will naturally be concerned that the cases weren't prosecuted.

"But they should understand that the Crown, in it's discretion, probably saw perhaps some weaknesses in these cases, and decided that given the resources that they have and given the quality of the case that they were looking at ... it favoured entering a stay rather than wasting resources on what could have been the Crown losing these at trial anyway," said Bottos.

The Wildrose Opposition said Tuesday the stayed charges show the Alberta government has set up the province's justice system to fail.

"It is infuriating to see the NDP government throw billions at phasing out coal and other pet projects but not find the resources to properly fund our justice system to keep criminals off our streets," Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said in a statement. "Albertans deserve better."