The justice system is a little like insurance: most people give it little thought until they find themselves in desperate circumstances. When people find themselves in need - of a lawyer or insurance coverage - brutal reality sets in.
For the past 10 years, B.C. hasn't been paying sufficient premiums to uphold key principles of justice in its court system. Even as the crime rate, and therefore the caseload, drops, the courts remain congested with cases taking far too long.
Legal aid cutbacks begun in the NDP years grew much more severe under Liberal administration. Trial lawyers and social justice advocates have been saying so for years, but their protests have gone unheeded. Justice delayed is justice denied, and society as a whole ultimately pays the price.
That's why hope is vested in the findings of Geoffrey Cowper, the Queen's counsel appointed by Premier Christy Clark in February to recommend ways of unclogging the courts. Cowper delivered his report Thursday to Attorney General Shirley Bond.
He points to a culture of delay and his recommendations are extensive. Criminal cases should be resolved within six months, but up to 20 per cent are taking 18 months or longer. B.C. needs legal aid funding restored and more judges to handle the caseload.
It's not as simple as that, of course. Cowper notes a major shift adding to congestion: 40 per cent of cases now involve breaches in court orders. He also points to the handling of domestic violence cases - the fastest growing file in Kamloops - and the challenges of mental illness and addiction. It will be a tough knot to untangle, for sure.
The judicial case manager, judges, lawyers and their clients at Kamloops Law Courts are continually consulting schedules and one another to expedite matters. With the vast majority of cases they succeed, because 98 per cent of them never go to trial. They're resolved out of court. It's the residual two per cent that are bogging down the system.
If the legal community isn't crying hallelujah, it's because Cowper's report stands before a lame-duck government that bears part of the responsibility for impeding the system in the first place.
Bond promised an action plan by fall, but let's hope she comes up with a list of short-term remedies that can be quickly implemented and won't require major budget allocations. Cowper seems to have tailored his recommendations to suit current fiscal restraints. They shouldn't be tied to the uncertainty of future revenues.
We Say editorials represent the viewpoint of The Daily News and are written by editor Robert Koopmans, city editor Tracy Gilchrist, news editor Mike Cornell or associate news editors Dan Spark and Mark Rogers.