Quebec to hire new judges, prosecutors to address backlog in justice system

The Quebec government wants to hire nearly two dozen new judges as part of a $175-million plan aimed at easing the burden on its overloaded justice system.

Funds will help courts address unreasonable delays, justice minister says

Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée says the province will put up to $200 million into addressing backlogs in the justice system. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The Quebec government wants to hire nearly two dozen new judges as part of a plan aimed at easing the burden on its overloaded justice system.

Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée tabled a bill Wednesday that would add two appeals court justices, five Superior Court justices and 16 provincial court judges to the current numbers.

At a news conference, Vallée announced further details of a four-year, $175.2-million plan to address the province's case backlog.

Between now and June 30, 2017, she said Quebec's Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions will hire 69 more Crown prosecutors and 114 support staff.

The changes will allow the province to handle 10,000 additional cases a year, she said.

In addition to the influx of cash, Vallée said there's a need for a "culture shift" within the justice system.

"There is still a lot more to do address the delays," she said.

Quebec's legislative session ends Friday, but Opposition Parti Québécois Leader Jean-François Lisée said his party will support the bill if the legal community says it is satisfied with the measures.

​Accused walk free

The pledge for more cash and new hires comes following a Supreme Court judgment in July known as the Jordan decision.

It states that the time between when an accused is charged and when their case reaches trial should be 18 months in a provincial court or 30 months in a Superior Court.

The decision has raised concern across the country that backlogs in the courts could allow people accused of serious crimes to go free.

Hells Angels member Richard Hudon walked free last month after waiting more than five years for his trial date to be set. (Radio-Canada)
Last month, four alleged drug traffickers, including Richard Hudon, one of the founding members of the Quebec Hells Angels, obtained a stay of proceedings at the Quebec City courthouse.

They had waited more than 60 months for a trial date on drug-related charges.

About a week after that, a Quebec Court judge in Joliette threw out the case of contractor Christian Blanchet, who was arrested on fraud, breach of trust and conspiracy charges, due unreasonable court delays.

Quebec's director of criminal prosecutions said recently it has received 222 requests for a stay of proceedings due to unreasonable delays under the new rules, a number  others say could be just the tip of the iceberg.

Struggles not new

The province has been grappling with delays in the court system for years.

Quebec courthouses have been beset by delays. (Radio-Canada)
Vallée announced new measures last October aimed at making things more efficient, including bringing back retired judges to handle administrative tasks and making use of alternatives to the courts for certain infractions.

But there was no plan to hire new staff at that time and no new funding.

"It's not a question of numbers. It's question of how we do things, how we address an issue," Vallée said at the time.

"Can we be more efficient? The message we are sending is, 'Yes, we can.'"

On Wednesday, Vallée denied the province had been slow to introduce more funding, saying she wanted to make sure the money would be put to good use.

with files from Ryan Hicks and The Canadian Press