Justice minister says critics jumping the gun on cuts
Bar Association says it cannot afford to adopt 'a wait-and-see approach'
Newfoundland and Labrador's embattled justice minister says the lawyers and others who have been lining up to denounce spending cuts are wrong, and that they should wait to see what happens before they make judgments.
"I have no question, whatsoever, that I believe the justice system will be just as strong going forward as it has been," Darin King told CBC News, responding to a growing chorus of complaints about cuts that will see layoffs throughout the system, from Crown prosecutors to probation officers.
On Tuesday, the Canadian Bar Association added its voice to the debate, saying that the cuts — including a still-unknown effect on the Legal Aid Commission — will have an inevitable and negative effect on the quality of the justice system.
King does not agree, and is particularly sharp over the CBA's criticism that the number of sheriff's officers will be dramatically reduced.
"I think they are being very alarmist," King said in an interview.
"They aren't providing an opportunity for this to work through the system. The number of sheriff's officers we have in the system is far higher than the number we had five years ago, or four years ago. Yet the cases going through provincial court for the most part are at about the same level."
In St. John's, the number of sheriff's officers is being cut from 40 to 20.
King asked for patience as the justice department makes its most significant changes in years.
"I think the changes that we are implementing unfortunately are causing a number of people, a number of groups, some discomfort. I understand that," he said.
"I accept that. I'll work through the process with them," added the minister.
Too broad, too deep
But Mike King, a defence lawyer who speaks on behalf of the CBA, said the cuts coming out of the March 26 budget are too broad and too deep.
"We felt the need to respond because it is the mandate of the CBA to promote an effective justice system and a fair justice system and that includes improving the administration of justice," he said.
"In the opinion of the CBA in general, these cuts reduce [or] certainly do not improve the administration of justice."
Lawyers and advocates such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving are worried that some criminal cases will have to be dropped because there will not be adequate resources to prosecute them without unconstitutional delay.
As well, defence lawyers dislike the elimination of the ankle bracelet monitoring program, which allowed some convicts of less serious crimes to finish or serve sentences outside of jail.
Mike King said the CBA is not apologizing for speaking out now about its concerns.
"With respect to [our] position, we certainly don't agree to a wait-and-see approach, in terms of let's see how this plays out, and then react to it," he said.