Nfld. & Labrador

Mixed reviews of province adding justice to department name

Some members of the legal community in Newfoundland and Labrador have welcomed the provincial government's decision to add the word justice back into a provincial departmental name.

Not all convinced government understood nature of concerns from stakeholders

Lawyer Bob Simmonds says he's pleased with the province's decision to add the word justice to the provincial department that absorbed the former justice department. (CBC)

Some members of the legal community in this province have welcomed government's decision to add the term justice back into a departmental name.

However, not all members were convinced government understood the nature of the concerns.

Premier Paul Davis announced in September the justice department would be absorbed by the new Department of Public Safety.

The announcement prompted concern from some in the legal community, who questioned why lawyers and judges weren't consulted beforehand.

I think we have to give credit that they listened to the clear commentary.- Lawyer Bob Simmonds

On Friday evening, Davis announced the department's name would be changed to the Department of Justice and Public Safety, in response to concern from stakeholders.

Bob Simmonds, a criminal lawyer in St. John's, said he's pleased the province responded to the concerns expressed.

Simmonds said while the handling of the situation may not have been ideal from the beginning, the province reacted to the legal community's worries in an appropriate way.

"I think we have to give credit that they listened to the clear commentary coming through the media, through the lawyers, through Canadian bar, groups like that saying, 'Hey, this does cause us a concern, there should have been a consultation,'" said Simmonds.

Following government's announcement, the Newfoundland and Labrador branch of the Canadian Bar Association issued a release, stating they welcomed the renaming of the department and were pleased with the province for "responding promptly" to expressed concerns.

Not all convinced

However, not all members of the legal community were convinced government understood the nature of the complaints.

Bob Buckingham, a criminal lawyer in St. John's, was a staunch critic of the name change, and said he's still not convinced government understands the importance of justice, adding that public safety needs to be a separate department from justice.
Lawyer Bob Buckingham says he's not convinced the provincial government learned a lesson after reorganizing the former justice department. (CBC)

"I don't think it's an indication that they've learned anything about political convention or about the importance of justice and how long we've had justice systems and departments in Canada and Newfoundland," said Buckingham.

MHA Andrew Parsons, the official opposition critic for the department, said he's not convinced government's decision has real meaning behind it.

"I still have serious concerns when it comes to the department as a whole, and I guess the focus of this department. I mean, they may have changed the name, but is that going to change the intent of the department and where they're going?" said Parsons.

Parsons said while he is glad to see government responding to criticism, he questioned the decision to announce the change late on a Friday before Thanksgiving weekend.

Davis was in Corner Brook on Saturday for the Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador conference.