No quick fix for Nova Scotia's slow court system

A Crown prosecutor in Halifax says expanding the restorative justice program won't speed up the court system. Rick Woodburn says only more money and resources can do that.

'Have they put the money in to keep pace with the crimes that are being committed? No, they’re not.'

Rick Woodburn is a Crown prosecutor in Halifax and president of the Canadian Association of Crown Counsel. (CBC)

The planned expansion of a program that diverts people accused of minor crimes from Nova Scotia's courtrooms will not fix long delays in an overburdened system, according to a Crown prosecutor in Halifax.

It's the growing number of major crimes like murder and weapons offences that slow the system down, not minor offences usually covered by the restorative justice program, said Rick Woodburn, president of the Canadian Association of Crown Counsel. The group represents the interests of Crown prosecutors and Crown civil lawyers across the country.

"They'll tote quick fixes, but ultimately we need the resources to make this thing work," Woodburn told CBC's Information Morning. 

"It's just a numbers game. If you have five cases and one judge, he can't hear all of them."

A man died in hospital after being shot Monday night in a vehicle on Gottingen Street in Halifax. Woodburn said it's serious crimes like this that are bogging down the court system. (Elizabeth McMillan/CBC)

Restorative justice is a way of diverting people not charged with serious, violent or sexual crimes from the court system. It typically involves young offenders and victims reconciling their differences through face-to-face meetings or coming together as a group.

Earlier this week, Justice Minister Diana Whalen said she was optimistic that expanding the program to include adults would keep some cases away from the court and relieve some of the pressure to get cases heard more quickly.

Serious crimes on the rise

Woodburn said that's not a fix. He said more time and effort are needed to address the rising number of major crimes.

Halifax police guarded the entrance of 610 Washmill Lake Dr. for hours after a deadly shooting on Nov. 12. (Steve Berry/CBC)

In 2014-15, the Crown in Halifax prosecuted 24 homicides, 54 attempted murders and nearly 2,000 weapons charges. That's up from zero homicides, 14 attempted murders and about 1,000 weapons charges in 2006-07, said Woodburn.

"We just don't have the resources"

Along with the increase in serious crime, there's also a lot more evidence to sift through and more time being spent in court. 

At one time, a half-empty box of evidence sat on Woodburn's desk. Today there are six boxes of material for each homicide waiting to be examined. 

"There's more disclosure, electronic disclosure, expert reports that have to be gone through," he said.

"Impaired driving for example used to take a half day. They now take two days. Homicides that used to take two days or a week now take four to five weeks." 

Woodburn said the only way to solve the problem is to put more money into the justice system, hire more lawyers, court staff, judges and sheriffs. 

"Have they put money in? Yes. But have they put the money in to keep pace with the crimes that are being committed? No, they're not, it's clear. We just don't have the resources."