VANCOUVER - The lawyer tasked with unclogging British Columbia's overburdened courts has held candid conversations with more than 100 groups and individuals and that's made him "comfortable" he'll soon be ready to oil the slow-turning wheels of justice.
Lawyer Geoffrey Cowper says everyone wants a speedier system and that will require both concrete measures and in-house "cultural recognition" that being timely needs to be a priority.
Cutting the number of court appearances before an accused goes to trial will likely be among his recommendations when he releases his final report to the government by end of next month.
"There's been a very active debate about how we would get there and what kind of changes we need to get there," he said Friday as he released a second interim report on the progress of his review.
"I think people are looking at it very creatively, trying to figure out changes that we would make that wouldn't cost money as well as changes that might involve additional resources."
Cowper has heard from a number of judges who fondly recall a previous era when short criminal matters went to trial in only a few months.
Blasting back to the past while moving forward could involve re-implementing those previously understood deadlines with modern technology, he said. Wider use of video court appearances and email could also push the process ahead.
Were trials to occur much sooner, "a significant number of the current problems would fall away," Cowper noted in his report released Friday.
Cowper, the former head of the society administering legal aid services in B.C., was appointed in February to conduct a wholesale review of a system wincing under the strain of too many cases.
At the time his review began, government statistics showed 2,500 criminal cases had been before the provincial court for more than 18 months.
Some 109 cases were stayed in 2011 owing to such court delays, almost doubling from a year earlier.
Public outrage was heard as people like a convicted cocaine dealer and a man accused of killing a little boy's puppy walked free.
A dearth of judges, below the level in 2005, has been among the potential causes for blame.
Over the course of 18 weeks, Cowper has conducted more than 100 consultations ranging from individuals within the courts, the Crown branch and the justice ministry to police, academics and victims' advocates.
Cowper said his final report will comment on resource allocation, but not necessarily call for more cash.
"There's a lot of money in the system, but it's being spent and we have to make sure it's spent well," he said.
Justice Minister Shirley Bond said she's pleased with the progress Cowper has made.
"I'm confident that Cowper's expertise and this wide representation of views — along with the public input from the web — will ensure that the final report offers some strong recommendations for improvements to our justice system," she said in an email statement. "We are looking forward to receiving these."
A similar study was conducted for the provincial government six years ago, echoing many of the same complaints. Cowper believes the review he's undertaking will make greater strides because it's looking at the system as a whole.
He added the people he's spoken to are genuinely seeking change.
"I don't think we're just relying upon me at all to come up with new ideas. I think there is much hope for improvement."
Cowper is still inviting submissions until June 30, while his final report will be handed to the government before the end of July.