Alberta's Court of Queen's Bench needs to be more efficient, chief justice says

More work needs to be done to reduce backlog in Alberta’s courts and to increase the public’s trust in the justice system, according to the province’s Court of Queen’s Bench chief justice.

Moreau focused on tackling court backlog across the province during her first year on the job

Alberta Court of Queen's Bench chief justice Mary Moreau says she is focused on reducing court backlogs across the province. (CBC)

The chief justice of Alberta's Court of Queen's Bench thinks more work needs to be done to reduce the backlog in Alberta's courts and increase the public's trust in the justice system.

Chief Justice Mary Moreau met with members of the media on Monday to reflect on her first year on the job. 

"It's been a really hectic first year," Moreau said. "We know that judicial resources are still stretched." 

Reducing court backlog is a priority in every part of the province, she added.

While 12 judicial positions have been filled in Alberta since Moreau took on the role of chief justice, another 12, including four in Edmonton, are still vacant.​ The vacancies include eight Queen's Bench justices and four justices for the Alberta Court of Appeal.

Reducing backlog

Moreau said a multifaceted approach is needed to make Alberta's judicial system more efficient. 

Many regional courthouses, such as Red Deer and Fort McMurray, do not have the space to accommodate all the cases that need to be heard within the timeline set by the Supreme Court in the Jordan decision.

Sharing courtrooms can be a temporary solution to the problem, Moreau said. 

"We knocked on the doors of, for example, provincial court and said 'Do you folks have empty courtrooms when the judges twice a year go on their educational seminars? Can we use them? Can we fill them with our Jordan challenged cases?'" 

Early resolution

Court staff are also double booking courtrooms, and banking on the fact that some matters will not make it to trial. 

"I make no apology for it," said Moreau. "We have backed that up, in case we guess wrong from time to time."

A group of supernumerary judges, who work halftime, are part of a "have gavel, will travel" program. The judges are deployed to hear cases if a double booking issue arises.

Another way to free up courtroom time is by resolving more disputes outside of court, she said.  

A new initiative in family court gives people the opportunity to resolve their conflict by meeting with a judge for an hour. 

"Often, they're not really legal problems," Moreau explained. "It's about social issues, it's about financial issues."

"We think there are resources outside the courtroom that would be best deployed avoiding that adversarial win-lose approach which I think is very, very harmful."

Increasing transparency 

Moreau also wants to focus on sharing these successful initiatives with the public. 

"Certainly, people who have had a courtroom experience, it may not be a positive experience," Moreau said. 

"I am trying to develop techniques that will create less of that feeling when you leave the courthouse." 

The chief justice is also committed to allowing media greater access to court proceedings. 

It's important for the public to understand how judges work, she said.

The Court of Queen's Bench is working on a policy that would allow cameras to be present in some situations, said Moreau. 

"There's a lot to learn about what we're doing right now, the kind of programs that we're having, that maybe will increase trust in our work."