N.B. promises family court pilot project

The New Brunswick government is taking steps to cut the backlog of cases that are clogging up the province's family court system.

The New Brunswick government is taking steps to cut the backlog of cases that are clogging up the province's family court system.

Attorney General Kelly Lamrock announced on Friday that a new pilot project would be rolled out in Saint John later this spring that would help speed up the process of resolving family disputes.

The attorney general also said legislation would also be introduced that would help ease the strain on the court system.

"We are going to take steps to make sure that we reduce the backlog of child protection and family cases if things should be in mediation and not in front of the court," Lamrock said.

Lamrock's comments come a year after Court of Queen's Bench Justice Raymond Guerette led a special task force designed to find ways to cut the long waiting lists to the family courts.

Guerette and the task force's panel of six lawyers offered a list of 50 recommendations to the New Brunswick government intended to end the crisis in the family courts.

Guerette said the pilot project in Saint John, which is geared to speed up and make family law less adversarial, is a good start.

But he said he wonders when families outside of Saint John will benefit from this new service.

"How long are they going to have to wait to get their pilot project? Saint John will have the Cadillac service and the other judicial districts will have what they have now, which is practically nothing," the judge said.

Judge felt 'betrayed'

The New Brunswick government hasn't acted on any of the report's recommendations.

The Guerette task force report described a family court system that has worsened because of a variety of factors, including an almost 50 per cent jump in people without lawyers, an escalation in the number and complexity of hearings in child protection cases, and "perceived procedural requirements."

After a year of watching his task force report languish without any action, Guerette told a meeting of the Canadian Bar Association on Friday that he felt "betrayed" by the government's actions since the report was released.

Shortly after the task force released its report, the province cut the jobs of 14 court mediators and cut the Legal Aid New Brunswick budget.

Guerette directly criticized the provincial government in front of the group of 50 lawyers, which included former Liberal justice ministers Michael Murphy and T.J. Burke, who appointed Guerette to lead the task force.

"Judges are supposed to keep quiet on public issues, but there is one exception to that rule — and that's when it comes to the proper administration of justice," Guerette said on Friday.

This isn't the first time a sitting judge has chided the Liberal government for its handling of the court system. In 2009, Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice David Smith and Provincial Court Chief Judge Les Jackson questioned the government's budget cutbacks.