British Columbia

B.C. government's cuts causing court delays says NDP

B.C.'s NDP opposition is scoffing at the Campbell government's explanation for the growing backlog of cases in the provincial court system.

The NDP is scoffing at the B.C. Liberal government's explanation for the growing backlog of cases in the provincial court system.

On Monday, CBC News reported new figures show the average person facing a traffic offence can expect to spend 10 months waiting to appear before the courts  — up from seven months just a year earlier.

Criminal cases now take an average of seven months to reach trial, one month longer than the previous year, and some are simply being thrown out due to time delays.

B.C. NDP justice critic Leonard Krog blames the Liberal government's sweeping reforms of the court system six years ago.

"The Campbell government made reckless cuts to the court system in British Columbia. Delays in court proceedings are not only inconvenient, they put at serious risk the right of British Columbians to fair and timely justice," Krog said Monday.

He said one major cause of the delays was the government's decision to close two dozen courthouses in small, rural communities in 2002.

"They messed up the system, they underfunded, they cut, and now the proverbial chickens are home to roost on this one," Krog said.

But Attorney General Wally Oppal countered that the government simply consolidated courthouses to make better use of them.

Krog also blamed the Liberal government's 40 per cent cuts to legal aid funding for increasing the workload of legal aid lawyers and creating more unnecessary delays in the courts.

Oppal himself blamed the delays for traffic cases on the unexpectedly large number of justices of the peace who took a buyout and retired. They normally hear traffic cases.

As for the growing backlog of criminal cases, the attorney general blames evidentiary laws which he believes favour the defence and slow the prosecution.

"We find now that every piece of available evidence, regardless of whether it's relevant or not, is now being disclosed," said Oppal.

But Krog dismissed that concern. "That has been the case in Canada, let alone British Columbia, for a very long time," he said.