Reviewing the justice system

Reviewing the justice system By Shirley Bond Minister of Justice and Attorney General

By Shirley Bond

Minister of Justice and Attorney General

Crime rates have dropped to their lowest point in nearly 40 years, and yet we find our justice system is bogged down with growing backlogs, delays and stays. We don’t seem to be getting the improvements expected from the $1 billion we invest in public safety and justice each year.

We have hired 23 new judges in the last two years, will have 58 new sheriffs graduated to work in courthouses by the end of April, and have enough funding – $42 million over three years in Budget 2012- to maintain court services at current levels.

But it would be fiscally irresponsible to continue just to invest more dollars without also striving for improved outcomes. That’s why as part of the broader, comprehensive review of our justice system currently underway – – we have appointed Gary McCuaig, QC,to review B.C.’s charge approval model and advise me on whether British Columbia’s process is as effective as it could be. We want to make sure the public will continue to have confidence in B.C.’s charge approval standard and process.

Our province’s system of pre-screening charges works well for the most part – 57 per cent of police reports are assessed within one full working day of being received, 71 per cent within five days and 93 per cent within 30 days. However, as we take a closer look at our justice system as a whole, it is prudent that we also consider whether any improvements or changes can make the charge approval model more effective and efficient.

B.C. is one of three provinces, along with Quebec and New Brunswick, where Crown counsel assess cases before criminal charges are laid. Specifically, Crown counsel only proceeds if there is both a substantial likelihood of conviction and a prosecution is in the public interest.

In all other provinces, Crown counsel screen charges after they are laid by police to determine if they will continue the prosecution. In both cases, Crown has authority under the Criminal Code to terminate a prosecution by staying the proceedings or withdrawing the charges.

In 2011, Crown counsel reviewed reports from police recommending charges against 77,476 individuals and charges were approved to court against 62,254. Clearly charge assessment and approval represents a significant amount of work. That’s why it’s important to examine this aspect of criminal justice administration and ensure it is as effective and efficient as possible.

Over the next month, Mr. McCuaig will consult with stakeholders in British Columbia from across the justice system, and report back on how well B.C.’s charge assessment system works, taking into account the way charges are laid in other provinces.

Mr. McCuaig’s final report and recommendations will be used to inform the larger Justice Reform Initiative already underway and help us identify actions that can be taken to make the justice system more efficient, transparent and accessible for all British Columbians.