A "culture of delay" within British Columbia's justice system encourages defence lawyers, Crown prosecutors and even judges to act in ways that contribute to unacceptable backlogs in the courts, concludes a government-ordered review that calls for sweeping change.
Attorney General Shirley Bond appointed Geoffrey Cowper in February to examine why so many cases take months or years to make their way through the courts.
Cowper released a report Thursday that proposes a range of measures to reduce court delays, but a glaring lack of specific funding recommendations raised concerns among some in the justice system.
Kamloops lawyer Michelle Stanford said there are encouraging aspects to the 207-page report, and it's early since it's just been released, but she hopes discussion turns to funding down the road.
"It doesn't go far enough in terms of giving a dollar value. It would be nice to say even in percentages how funding should be apportioned and it would be nice to have a clear message in that regard," said Stanford.
In 2011, more than 100 cases were stayed because of court delays, and when Cowper began his review, there were roughly 2,500 cases before the provincial courts that had been there for more than 18 months.
Justice Minister Shirley Bond agreed the system isn't performing as it should, though she was quick to embrace Cowper's suggestion that change need not be expensive.
"The first answer to solving problems isn't writing a cheque, and I think the report actually upholds that view," Bond told reporters.
However, Stanford said any of the recommendations Cowper puts forward would need funding.
"The changes he's suggesting - and it's a systemic change, huge, wide-ranging change - is going to require funding," said Stanford.
On the other hand, Stanford said she was happy to see an emphasis on the necessity of Legal Aid.
"It is encouraging that (Cowper) is telling the government through his report that legal aid does need specific funding in order to be a participant and speak to resolving issues of access to justice," she said.
The Legal Services Society also provided a report Thursday on a study it undertook about ways to reform legal aid, with recommendations that Cowper supported.
The report notes new legal aid initiatives are not possible without more money, but they believe a small investment can lead to savings elsewhere in the future.
Part of the problem, wrote Cowper, is either the defence nor the Crown are encouraged to work early in the process towards reasonable pleas or sentences.
He suggested the system that operates on the assumption that every case is destined for trial, when in fact 98 per cent of cases in provincial court are resolved without a trial. This means courts end up being poorly utilized as cases scheduled for trial are cancelled at the last minute.
One way to address that, he said, is to ensure individual Crown prosecutors are assigned to take "ownership" over files from the outset.
And legal aid lawyers should be assigned to particular court locations so they deal with the same offenders, he said, which will require an increase to legal aid funding.
Bond said her government will release a report later in the fall that will detail a plan to address Cowper's recommendations.
THE DAILY NEWS/THE CANADIAN PRESS