Nfld. & Labrador

Government handling of court system 'unacceptable,' says lawyer

A Carbonear lawyer is slamming the provincial government for its handling of the court system, following Friday's announcement that it's scrapping an earlier decision to close courts in Harbour Grace and Wabush.
The Newfoundland and Labrador government announced Friday that provincial courts in Wabush and Harbour Grace, previously slated for closure, would stay open. (Glenn Payette/CBC)

A Carbonear lawyer is slamming the provincial government for its handling of the court system, following Friday's announcement that it's scrapping an earlier decision to close courts in Harbour Grace and Wabush. 

That decision is partly due to a recent Supreme Court decision, R. vs. Jordan, that stated provincial court trials should be completed in 18 months.

Lawyer John Babb, one of a group of lawyers leading a legal fight to keep Harbour Grace open, said he wasn't surprised government decided not to close the courts, but noted it's been two weeks since the Jordan decision.

"That was heard back in October of last year, and the decision was rendered July 8, so there's been plenty of time and lots of water after going under the bridge since then," he said.

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons says the provincial government was at risk from civil suits if court closures delayed cases longer than new guidelines set by the Supreme Court of Canada. (CBC)

The lawyers' case to keep the court open centred around access to justice as well as the autonomy of the judiciary, adding that a tribunal should be established as a buffer between the court system and the government on budgetary matters.

"The documentation that's been filed in this case gives us a window to some degree of how the machinations are working for closures, and how budgets are administered with respect to our court system. And it's unacceptable."

Babb — the former president of the PC Party — said just about every aspect of society would have been affected by the closures, including victims of crime.

Justice needs more money, not less: Babb

"It's unacceptable to make access to justice unreachable," he said. "Public safety is at risk, I think, and bottom line is that there should be more monies put into justice, not taken away."

The province's justice minister also says closing provincial courts in Wabush and Harbour Grace could have left the province open to lawsuits.

"If we were not to accommodate the Jordan decision, the fact is that if people have their Charter rights breached and then we get into the possibility of civil suits and everything else, who knows how that can be calculated?" said Parsons.

He said keeping the courts open means the province won't save as much money as it hoped, but a new lease arrangement with the owner of the building that houses the provincial court in Harbour Grace will save the province $100,000 a year.

With files from Zach Goudie and Glenn Payette