VICTORIA – Five new provincial court judges will help B.C.'s backlogged court system, but the system is still falling behind, says NDP justice critic Leonard Krog.
New judges were named Sunday by Attorney-General Barry Penner to serve in Surrey, Vernon, Williams Lake and Prince George. The new appointments will allow the chief judge of the provincial court to assign an extra judge to Vancouver as well.
Krog said the five new judges represent fewer than a third of the 17 the provincial court estimated were needed in a report on the issue last fall. Numerous prosecutions have been dropped because of delays in getting them to trial, and thousands more are at risk of the same fate.
In late June, Penner reversed a budget cut to part-time sheriffs that reduced the service by the equivalent of 34 full-time sheriffs, after judges raised the alarm about risks to courtroom security. Sheriffs are responsible for keeping order in courtrooms and moving prisoners to and from custody for their court appearances.
"We're down about 100 [sheriffs] from where we were a few years ago, and that led to a number of court cases being delayed," Krog said Monday.
Changes to B.C.'s impaired driving regulations are also reducing the load on the provincial court system. The government estimated that impaired cases were taking up half the available time in some courthouses, but switching to roadside administrative penalties has led to a 75 per cent drop in impaired cases going to court.
Krog said the inadequate legal aid funding is creating more pressure on the overtaxed court system. Family cases involving custody, access and maintenance are increasingly being heard in provincial court, often without lawyers, he said.