Underfunding has resulted in about 15 per cent of staff in B.C.'s court services branch being cut since 2005.

Embattled courts on way to ‘tipping point’

Chief judge warns of threat to justice system from years of cuts

The top judge of the B.C. Supreme Court has issued a rare warning that the province’s justice system is critically threatened by years of government underfunding.

Chief Justice Robert Bauman, in a blunt Nov. 19 speech to B.C. lawyers in Las Vegas, used analogies like “going over the cliff in slow motion” to describe the danger looming from court congestion.

“Bring this issue to the attention of our fellow citizens and take whatever steps you can to defend and protect our judicial system,” he urged legal colleagues. “Once our institution is critically wounded it will never be the same again.”

Bauman likened court underfunding in B.C. to the forces of erosion, adding it is steadily approaching a “tipping point when that gradual, insidious process of incremental damage yields its dramatic finish – the structure is diminished and collapses.”

By next year, the court services budget will have been cut more than 10 per cent since 2008, with overall staff down about 15 per cent.

Bauman said there is a limit to the system’s ability to cope with restraint, adding the cutbacks that are yet to come are “cuts to the bone.”

Numerous accused criminals, often impaired drivers, have already walked free because of judicial stays of proceeding after the case took too long to go to trial due to court delays.

The shortage of provincial court judges – 17 fewer now hear cases than in 2005 – have led to criminal case backlogs so long, he noted, even an accused cocaine trafficker had his case quashed this fall after a 42-month delay.

Court sometimes can’t proceed because no clerk is available, Bauman noted.

A shortage of court registry staff has delayed the processing of court orders by up to six months in some cities, he said.

And he called the reduction in sheriffs earlier this year – since rescinded – a “glaring example” of court underfunding that led to criminal trial delays and never should have happened.

Legal aid funding has dropped to “almost nil” in civil and family cases, Bauman added, even though close to 20 per cent of litigants are self-represented.

“Without additional resourcing, the court’s traditional and essential role in maintaining societal order is being eroded and degraded,” Bauman warned.

NDP leader Adrian Dix called it a “very significant” warning on the state of the courts.

“When you have people like serious cocaine dealers who are not being tried because of court delays, that’s a serious problem for confidence in our justice system.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Police closed McNeill Avenue after a workplace death Oct. 20, 2020. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
WorkSafe BC investigating man’s death during Oak Bay tree removal

Man was working for contracted tree removal company when incident occurred

Vic High (Black Press Media file photo)
Vic High stadium plans drop promised 8-lane track to ‘barely wider than city sidewalk’

Friends of Vic High seek public inquiry into plans for Memorial Stadium Revitalization Project

A notice on the door of the Starbucks at 3849 Cadboro Bay Rd. says it closes permanently on Sunday, Oct. 25. (Google Maps)
Cadboro Bay Starbucks location to close permanently after 16 years

Residents association seeks reason for closure set for Oct. 25

A bear similar to this black bear was spotted on Elk Lake Drive on Oct. 20 and is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich the night before. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bear spotted several times in Saanich likely to be euthanized

Conservation officers still searching for bear reported near Elk Lake Drive

The West Shore RCMP released these images of a suspect as part of its investigation into a report of sexual assault on Sept. 17. (West Shore RCMP handout)
The West Shore RCMP released these images of a suspect as part of its investigation into a report of sexual assault on Sept. 17. (West Shore RCMP handout)
Sexual assault suspect sought by West Shore RCMP

Police are looking for help identifying this man

FILE – People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, August 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
167 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death recorded as B.C. enters 2nd wave

Three new healthcare outbreaks also announced

Advance polls are open from Oct. 15 to 21 with election day on Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
Nanaimo RCMP are asking for the public’s assistance in locating Michael Leighton, who is wanted on 11 warrants on Vancouver Island and is a suspect in a recent break, enter and theft in Nanaimo. (Photos submitted)
RCMP looking for break-and-enter suspect with 11 warrants on the Island

Nanaimo RCMP say Michael Leighton a suspect in theft of pistol and $40,000 worth of coins

This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 particle isolated from a patient, in a laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID/NIH via AP
At least 49 cases of COVID-19 linked to wedding in Calgary: Alberta Health

McMillan says the city of Calgary has recently seen several outbreaks linked to social gatherings

UBC geoscientists discovered the wreckage of a decades-old crash during an expedition on a mountain near Harrison Lake. (Submitted photo)
Wreckage of decades-old plane crash discovered on mountain near Harrison Lake

A team of Sts’ailes Community School students helped discover the twisted metal embedded in a glacier

The official search to locate Jordan Naterer was suspended Saturday Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of VPD.
‘I am not leaving without my son,’ says mother of missing Manning Park hiker

Family and friends continue to search for Jordan Naterer, after official efforts suspended

Bernard Trest and his son Max, 10, are concerned about B.C.’s plan for students in the classroom. He was one of two fathers who filed a court application in August to prevent schools from reopening if stricter COVID-19 protections weren’t in place. That application was dismissed last week. (Contributed photo)
B.C. dad pledges to appeal quashed call for mandatory masks, distancing in schools

Bernard Trest and Gary Shuster challenged health, education ministries’ return-to-school plan

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
RCMP cleared in fatal shooting of armed Lytton man in distress, police watchdog finds

IIO spoke to seven civillian witnesses and 11 police officers in coming to its decision

A 34-year-old man was treated for a gunshot wound in Williams Lake Monday, Oct 19, 2020. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake man treated for gunshot wound after accidental shooting: RCMP

Police are reminding residents to ensure firearms are not loaded when handling them

Most Read