Nfld. & Labrador

Many justice cuts repealed after judges, lawyers file appeals

The Newfoundland and Labrador government is repealing some of the sweeping spending cuts it was poised to make in the justice system.

More prosecutors, court security, legal aid staff part of reversal decision

Justice Minister Darin King repeals many cuts to his department announced during the budget 28:42

The Newfoundland and Labrador government is reversing some of the controversial cuts made to its justice department.

At a news conference on Thursday afternoon, Justice Minister Darin King said he takes full responsibility for the budget cuts — and added compelling information that came in after the March 26 provincial budget led to the reversal.

Some of that information came directly from the three chief justices in the province who warned that planned cuts in the justice system would pose problems, including less security in the courts.

Last Friday, King formed a justice stakeholder committee to revisit departmental cuts. That committee was made up of key representatives for legal aid, public prosecutions, the sheriff's office and defence lawyers, as well as Finance Minister Jerome Kennedy and Attorney General Tom Marshall.

King told CBC News he was "under pressure" to revisit the cuts.

King and the provincial government heard an avalanche of criticism from union leaders, the Canadian Bar Association and even the organization representing the province's Crown attorneys, who said the cuts would lead to significant delays and could even trigger an inquiry into failures in the justice system.

The committee met on Wednesday night.

King said the workload and caseload for Crown attorneys was a factor in decision reversal.

Two Crown prosecutor vacancies will be filled in St. John's, with funding reinstated for two lawyer positions in the city. King announced funding for an additional lawyer position in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

Legal Aid will also receive funding to reinstate two lawyer positions. Three lawyer vacancies will be filled.

One of the more controversial areas that was cut was to the sheriff's office. Today's decision will see a deputy sheriff reinstated in St. John’s, as well as in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Two deputy sheriff vacancies will also be filled and a casual call-in list will be established.

King said the extra sherriff's officers are exactly what the high sherriff requested at the stakeholder meeting and his proposal was accepted entirely. He said this guarantees court security will not be affected.

'Compelling arguments'

Premier Kathy Dunderdale told CBC News the appeals were hard to ignore.

"When people come forward and make those kinds of compelling arguments, when they can provide very solid reasons why we need to have another look at some of the decisions we've taken, I'm prepared to do that," Dunderdale said Thursday during an interview recorded for this Saturday's edition of On Point with David Cochrane.

"I'm absolutely open to that. We're not entrenched."

Heading into Wednesday's meeting, defence lawyer Bob Simmonds told CBC News he wanted to know why the government cut so deeply into a system that he sees as already operating on bare bones.

"I don't know the choices that the minister had. Difficult choices undoubtedly. 'Do I close hospital beds or do I make some cuts in the department of justice?' " Simmonds said.

Simmonds said he welcomed the formation of the committee, and said he sees a genuine concern on King's part about the fallout of the cuts.

"I believe Darin King looked at this and realized, 'Gee, maybe we should have a second look at this.' The fact that we are going to have three ministers at that meeting tonight I think is a very positive move."

King said that external reviews of two department areas are planned.

"As part of the discussions we had, the feedback we've received, we will be conducting external reviews of the sheriff's office and the legal aid system," King said. 

There is still no plan to review probation officers cuts. 

With files from David Cochrane and Amy Stoodley