British Columbia

B.C. judge warns system eroding to 'tipping point'

The B.C. Supreme Court's chief justice has issued a bluntly worded challenge to the provincial government's cutbacks in the judicial system, saying it might soon could become 'critically wounded.'

The chief justice of the B.C. Supreme Court has issued a bluntly worded challenge to the provincial government, saying the judicial system is threatened by cutbacks.

Robert Bauman says the judicial system is slowly being eroded by a lack of funding, a shortage of judges and staff. 

Bauman delivered the speech last weekend to B.C. lawyers meeting in Las Vegas, but it only came to light Thursday when the NDP released a copy of Bauman’s text.

"We are not at the tipping point yet, but we are steadily edging towards it," Bauman said.

Bauman closed the speech with a dire warning to his fellow lawyers.

"Think about the harm that flows from diminishing the court’s effectiveness and traditional role through underfunding; think about "going over the cliff in slow motion" — once our institution is critically wounded it will never be the same again," he said.

Cases tossed out

B.C. New Democrat MLA Leonard Krog, the party’s attorney general critic, said too many alleged criminal have gone free in recent years due to courts so backlogged, judges have thrown the cases out.

"We have drug dealers walking free," said Krog. "What’s next?"

Krog said Bauman’s speech must be taken seriously.

"This isn't, with great respect, some backwoods lawyer like me from Nanaimo," Krog said. "This is the chief justice of British Columbia."

Attorney General Shirley Bond issued a statement late Thursday, defending the government’s attempts to control costs while continuing to support the judiciary.

"As Chief Justice Bauman points out, these are challenging economic times," Bond said. "However as a government, we are committed to the stability and integrity of our court system. That’s why we’ve appointed 14 judges in the last two years."

Bond also said B.C. celebrated one of the largest graduating classes of sheriffs earlier this month, while more court clerks and court registry staff are also being hired.

Bond said earlier Thursday that the government is also taking steps to reduce the demand on the courts with "systemic change."

Among those steps are the new drunk driving laws which allow police to issue stiff penalties at the roadside rather than taking up increasingly  valuable courtroom time.

With files from the CBC's Jeff Davies