Reform plan ignores law's plain realities

The province's recent 10-point plan for reform of the justice system, announced by Attorney-General Shirley Bond at an event at TRU's school of law, is filled with ambitious ideas for change.

How successful will the plan be? Time will tell, but the fact that it is based on a premise not grounded in the day-to-day realities of our court system does not bode well. The trouble is, the plan discusses justice as if it is an economic enterprise, something it is not. The report seems penned more by someone with an MBA than a JD (Juris Doctor).

"Action items" in the plan call for performance measures and business intelligence systems, improved ability to track and control system costs and efficiency in routine practices.

Such items might be reasonable and achievable in the halls of the Ministry of Finance in Victoria, but how will they work out in the corridors of justice in Kamloops and other similar communities? Likely not well.

Justice is not about numbers, it is about people. And humans, being the unpredictable creatures we are, sometimes fail to act in the logical way we expect of, well, numbers.

People are not in court by choice. They are dragged there by the state, usually to be prosecuted for offences that could see them deprived of cash or liberty, or sometimes both. Add to that the stigma of a criminal record - a stain that will affect one for life - and it's easier to appreciate why meaningful reform of justice can't be informed by a business-like approach. People in court don't make business decisions.

No matter how much the government cringes when trials fold hours before they are to proceed, it will happen. Accused individuals make decisions whether to plead guilty or not - and when - on a different set of criteria than efficiency analysts. They often wait until the last minute to plead guilty to an offence because they know witnesses may not show up to testify.

It is unrealistic to expect a person to accept early responsibility for an act knowing if they wait they might not have to accept responsibility at all.

But perhaps the government's plan for reform's greatest failing is its silence about the one thing that will make a marked difference. If the government is serious about improving the quality and efficiency of justice, it should put more money into legal aid.

Give more people better opportunity to hire good lawyers, and many of the problems facing justice will evaporate faster than "efficient case management" could ever hope to achieve.

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