'Drowning' Crown prosecutors say new hires needed urgently in Nova Scotia

James Giacomantonio says there's a danger cases could be thrown out due to taking too long to get through the system.

Courts are so backlogged, cases may be thrown out, James Giacomantonio warns

The president of the Nova Scotia Crown Attorneys' Association, James Giacomantonio, says the government must hire more lawyers. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The president of the Nova Scotia Crown Attorneys' Association says there is an urgent need for up to 20 new prosecutors to deal with a backlog of court cases in the province.

James Giacomantonio says his people are "drowning" under their workload — and there's a danger cases could be thrown out because they're taking too long to get through the system.

"It's a serious concern for the justice system and for the public that our people are drowning," Giacomantonio said.

"That is, the justice system in general, the Crowns, the judges."

Tight deadlines

The urgency is fuelled by the Jordan decision from the Supreme Court of Canada this summer. In that case, the court dismissed charges against an alleged drug dealer because the matter had taken too long. The court established new deadlines that all courts must meet.

In provincial courts across the country, matters must be dealt with in 18 months. At the superior court level, the new deadline is 30 months. Already in Alberta and Ontario, murder cases have been dismissed because they took too long.

'Ignoring the Jordan problem'

On Thursday, the Ontario government moved to address the problem by announcing the hiring of 13 new judges, 32 crown attorneys and 16 duty counsel.

Friday in Quebec City, the opposition Parti Quebecois launched an emergency debate in the National Assembly on the backlog issue.

"From our point of view, the government of Nova Scotia has yet to promise anything," Giacomantonio said.

"It seems they're ignoring the Jordan problem."

Changes made, province says

When asked to respond to the Ontario hirings, a spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Justice Department provided a list of measures it has already taken.

The list includes:

  • Expansion of the restorative justice program across the province.
  • Expansion of the Domestic Violence Court to Halifax
  • Improved case management.
  • Allowing some minor matters like summary offence tickets to be dealt with online instead of in court.
  • Using diversion where possible to get some offenders out of the mainstream court system.

But Giacomantonio said what's really needed is more people, and more courtrooms to accommodate them.

"We need some kind of response and we can't stand by and say nothing at this point," Giacomantonio said.

"The government has to act."

About the Author

Blair Rhodes

Reporter

Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 35 years, the last 27 with CBC. His primary focus is on stories of crime and public safety. He can be reached at blair.rhodes@cbc.ca