08/30/2012 02:00 EDT | Updated 10/30/2012 05:12 EDT

B.C. courts need 'better and faster' system

The pace of court trials in B.C. is too slow and widespread reforms are needed, according to a report on the province's justice system now under review by the B.C. government.

Lawyer Geoffrey Cowper, appointed in February to conduct a review of the province's justice system, released his report on Thursday.

"I have made recommendations aimed at building a better and faster system, such as system-wide standards for timeliness with regular public reporting on the results," said Cowper in a statement released by the government.

Cowper recommends the province establish a criminal justice public safety council to oversee court scheduling, set measurable performance levels and track the court backlog.

Under the new system, cases should no longer be assigned to judges, but to courthouses in order to increase efficiency.

"If you get all the trials in a multiple-courtroom courthouse, then you actually don't have a situation where a trial judge shows up in a courtroom with seven cases assigned to him and all of them collapse and he has nothing to do the rest of the day," Cowper said.

There would also be a new system established to explore the early resolution of cases, and more scrutiny of cases before charges are laid.

"Timeliness is necessary and a good start, but there are many other important goals relating to justice and public safety that also need attention."

The report also recommended the expansion of legal aid funding by a new tariff and the appointment of five new provincial judges to help clear the existing backlog.

Government to respond in the fall

Justice Minister Shirley Bond said she agreed with the main conclusion of the report.

"We agree with Mr. Cowper that the criminal justice system moves too slowly. This report shows that the issue of timeliness in the justice system is critical for all justice partners — and for the public. British Columbia, like other jurisdictions, has a crime rate that is dropping, while experiencing increasing delays in cases."

Bond said the government would issue a full response to the recommendation later in the fall after it had time to study the report.

The report was called after a growing number of cases were thrown out because of delays and at least two judges used their rulings to criticize what they complained was a lack of resources in the system.

Cowper was given until the end of July to consult with lawyers, judges, the police and others involved in the justice system, as well as members of the public, and submit his report to the provincial government.