Edmonton

All parties fail on justice policies, lawyers' group says

If the next government of Alberta doesn't invest in the justice system, courts will continue to falter with chronic backlogs, says the president of the Canadian Bar Association's Alberta branch.

Lawyers urge party leaders to address chronic backlogs in Alberta courts

The Canadian Bar Association's Alberta branch wants to make funding of the province's justice system an election issue. (Josee St-Onge/CBC)

If the next government of Alberta doesn't invest in the justice system, the courts will continue to falter with chronic backlogs, says the president of the Canadian Bar Association's Alberta branch.

"The justice system has not been adequately funded in this province for a long time and it has caught up to us," said Frank Friesacher, president of CBA Alberta, which represents more than 5,000 lawyers, judges, law teachers and law students across the province.

"'Justice delayed is justice denied' is the old adage and that's certainly true of our system today."

Friesacher said the needs of Alberta courts have been overlooked during the ongoing election campaign.

He's imploring the next government of the province to increase investment in the justice system.

He said all the political parties get a "failing grade" for their campaign policies on justice.

"We're really not talking about the justice system and the courts and how that system is overburdened, how it's underfunded and how there are large delays in getting access to justice and unequal access," Friesacher said.

Less than one per cent of the last provincial budget was spent on the justice system, he said. Funding increases have not kept pace with population growth, stagnating in recent years.

The chronic underfunding has left the system starved of resources and bogged down with backlogs, with the system overloaded with cases, resulting in slow access to justice, he said.

Countless criminal cases have been tossed out, due to unreasonably long delays in prosecution.

"Litigants can't get before the courts, criminal matters are delayed — family, civil matters, they're all backlogged," he said.

"At the end of the day, even for serious crimes, victims might see matters not get to trial and justice not given to them ... because of the delay in the system itself."

Friesacher said more money needs to be spent on judges, clerks and administration to ensure delays are minimized.

"There needs to be more money spent, more resources given to the justice system so it can do its job for Canadians."

The promises candidates have made to date will only put more demands on an already struggling system, he said.

For instance, UCP leader Jason Kenney has promised to increase front-line policing resources.

"If we add more prosecutors and more police, we're going to have more charges laid and more efforts to get into the courts to prosecute those matters," he said.

"If we haven't dealt with things down the road, then we are just creating a bigger backlog."

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