NEWS

'Extremely Serious' B.C. Court Delays Worsening

01/07/2012 01:11 EST | Updated 03/08/2012 05:12 EST

The B.C. government claims it is taking steps to reduce delays in the court system, despite a report that says the backlogs are getting worse.

New figures show there are now about 2,500 criminal cases that have been before the provincial court for 18 months or more. That’s 25-per-cent more than there were one year ago.

Also, judges stayed 109 cases due to delays last year, almost double the number from 2010.

"Do we need to look at resource issues? Absolutely,” said Attorney General Shirley Bond Friday. “But we also need to talk about reforming the justice system."

Victoria lawyer Michael Mulligan is skeptical about any relief coming soon.

"For those of us in the system who realize how badly underfunded it is, how we have an inadequate number of judges, sheriffs, lawyers to end the cases, those comments are utterly hollow," Mulligan said of Bond’s statement.

Mulligan said the courts are close to a crisis.

"The issue is an extremely serious one for the justice system," said Mulligan. "In Victoria, a person who is charged with an offence could expect to wait a year or more before their first trial date."

In fact, the average wait time for a two-day criminal trial has reached 11.2 months, up from 8.7-months 2005, according to a provincial court report.

Worst in Fraser Valley

The report found the situation is at its worst in Surrey and Chilliwack, where delays average 16 months before two days of trial time can be booked.

Vancouver and Port Coquitlam are only slightly better off with delays of 14 months.

"People who have been in the justice system for decades say this is as bad as they've ever seen it," said Samiran Lakshman of the B.C. Crown Counsel Association.

Lakshman said government cutbacks are to blame.

"It's a symptom of the systematic stripping of funding resources from the justice system," he said.

B.C. NDP attorney general critic Leonard Krog also is critical of the cuts.

“The government might as well just tell police to stop arresting criminals," Krog said.

But Bond said tough economic times dictate that the system must change and threw some of the responsibility back on the critics.

"There is not an unending pot of money that comes from taxpayers in this province,” said Bond. “We have to challenge the judiciary, we have to challenge lawyers for how are we going to do things differently."