On Point | Cutting the courts

Justice Minister Darin King said last week during On Point that he was confident that the recent cuts to the justice system would not result in problems in the courts.
Justice Minister Darin King defends cuts to the justice system, but defence lawyers Randy Piercey and Peter Ralph think otherwise on this week's On Point with David Cochrane 18:10

Justice Minister Darin King said last week during On Point that he was confident that the recent cuts to the justice system would not result in problems in the courts.

However, prominent member of the legal community in Newfoundland and Labrador have been speaking out about the consequences of these cuts.

King said he believes the justice system will still manage through the cuts.

"Based on the cases going through the system, and the average caseload across the province, we have every confidence that we're going to be able to continue to provide the same services that we've provided in the past," he said.

He does acknowledge that there will likely be changes in services, but that government remained confident.

"I don't think it's fair to say that anyone would have told me in any division that the cuts would not affect the operation," King said. "I mean, that would be a fairly ludicrous statement to make. Any time you make a reduction, you're going to make a change to the service."

King said if the cuts do result in problems within the legal system, then the issue will be addressed then.

"We will not let the system go in jeopardy — or public safety go in jeopardy — over any of these budgetary measures in the Department of Justice," King said.

"We'll respond accordingly. I can't say what that means, because it would be pure speculation."

Defence attorneys concerned

The cuts were met with harsh criticism from many people in the justice system, including veteran defence lawyers Randy Piercey and Peter Ralph.

Piercey, with Kelly Piercey Law Office, said the cuts will damage a legal system that had problems to begin with.

Peter Ralph, a defence attorney with Simmonds and Partners Defence, says the cuts to the legal system will likely put everyone involved in the courts at risk of violence. (CBC)

"I think it's going to have a major impact — I think it's going to function far less well," Piercey said. "I think things are going to be delayed and I think things that shouldn't proceed will proceed."

A major concern both Piercey and Ralph had is wrongful convictions.

"When you look at what we went through during the Lamer Inquiry, when he looked at three wrongful convictions and determined that there should be a tremendous increase in staffing levels at the Crown's office for the sole purpose of reducing wrongful convictions — now it appears to me that we're basically back down to pre-Lamer staffing levels," Ralph said.

Piercey said another concern among people in the legal community was safety in the courts.

"We're speaking because it's going to have a direct impact on our clients all across the board," Piercey said. "I'm not bringing my client down to a place that's as safe as it used to be."

According to Ralph, the reduction in the number for sheriff's officers will put everyone at risk.

"In all likelihood, everyone who's involved in the system is likely at more risk of being subject to violence because of these cuts to the sheriff’s office."

On Friday, King announced that he would be forming a committee to revisit the cuts and hear concerns from people in the legal community.