The province will create a new Justice and Public Safety Council to oversee a 10-step program intended to streamline B.C.’s ailing legal system, Justice Minister Shirley Bond said Monday.
Her announcement, made in front of Thompson Rivers University law students in the campus’s Grand Hall, came with the release of the White Paper on Justice Reform, One: A Modern, Transparent Justice System.
The 25-page document outlines the first part of the province’s strategy to make the justice system more efficient and transparent.
Some steps will happen immediately and others will take a year or more to complete, Bond told the students.
“Throughout the course of our process we’re going to be very public with British Columbians,” said Bond. “We’re going to report out on the progress we’re making and, if we’re not making progress, we’re going to explain why not.”
Bond said the council will hold regular meetings with stakeholders and produce an annual plan of attack. The first justice summit is scheduled to take place in March 2013.
She promised changes in how courts are run. This will be done through an increased use of technology, the creation of a sophisticated scheduling system and developing ways to measure performance.
The report makes no commitment to extra funding or new judges. But, after the announcement, Bond told reporters more judges would be hired if necessary.
As for funding, the province would like to solve the problem without spending money on it, she said.
“I think we need to demonstrate to British Columbians how we’re spending a billion dollars (on the legal system) today and whether or not it’s being done efficiently,” said Bond. “These our foundational questions that we’re asking.”
The plan is a response to a report authored by lawyer Geoffrey Cowper, who was appointed earlier this year to review the justice system amid concerns over persistent delays.
Cowper concluded court backlogs were the work of a legal culture that encourages delays and resists change, and he dismissed the suggestion that simply spending more money would fix the problem.
Bond said more than 2,500 court cases have been waiting 14 months or longer for trial and that’s unacceptable, especially given that the province’s crime rate is on the decline.
Bond met with the law students for a Q&A session afterward. Second-year student Kris Henderson told The Daily News he’s glad the province is taking steps to correct the legal system.
But he said he would have liked more concrete details in the White Paper, saying the document is vague about how the 10 steps will be carried out.
“Hopefully we’ll start to hear progress reports soon and find out what’s happening,” he said.
Cowper, who saw the government’s plan for the first time when it was released Monday afternoon, said in an interview that he liked what he saw.
“It seems to me they’ve taken my report very seriously, and it seems that they’ve adopted and declared as government policy the structural changes I recommended,” said Cowper.
Cowper predicted the changes outlined by the government will help fix the broken “culture of delay” he identified in his report.
“Cultural change is not something that comes about as a result of just wishing it,” said Cowper.
Part two of the White Paper will be released next year.