British Columbia

Reverse cuts to sheriff service: trial lawyers

Trial lawyers in B.C. are calling on the province's attorney general to reverse what they call a misguided decision to eliminate 34 deputy sheriff positions.

Trial lawyers in B.C. are calling on the province's attorney general to reverse what they call a misguided decision to eliminate 34 deputy sheriff positions.

On Wednesday, four trials — three in provincial court and one in Supreme Court — in Vancouver were delayed because of security concerns over a shortage of sheriffs.

Richard Fowler, the defence lawyer in the Supreme Court case, said the judge decided having two deputies patrol all of the trials was an unacceptable level of security in his courtroom.

Fowler, who is also an executive member of the Trial Lawyers Association of B.C., said the problems are due to the elimination of 34 deputy sheriff positions last month.

"They've been put in this hole because the Attorney General's ministry has decided that it's appropriate to reduce the number of sheriffs without any apparent understanding of the potential ramifications of that," Fowler said.

"This is a desperate and devastating situation … Things have to change immediately. Justice and the people of the province are suffering severe harm by this sad state of affairs."

The association is also concerned the lack of sheriffs will lead to serious criminal cases being dismissed because they have taken too long to get to trial.

"Courtrooms should not be empty when there is a backlog of cases to be processed," said association president Azool Jaffer-Jeraj.

"Just like judges, lawyers and court clerks, sheriffs are a very important part of the system. Justice cannot be achieved without them."

The association is calling on Attorney General Barry Penner to reinstate the 34 deputy positions eliminated last week.

"It was just a completely misguided decision in the first place, without any real understanding of how the courts operate," Fowler said.

Dean Purdy, with the union representing the sheriffs, said more than 100 positions have been eliminated over the past four years, and the risks to the public are increasing.

"The government is playing roulette with safety and if this isn't a wake-up call to government, I don't know what is."

In a written statement, Penner said he is concerned by what he calls "recent scheduling challenges," but has not committed to hiring more deputy sheriffs.

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