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More than money needed to fix B.C.'s courts: Falcon

B.C. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon says there is money in the new provincial budget to hire more judges, but the judicial system itself needs reform to end court backlogs.

"Not surprisingly, the NDP can't read budgets well," Falcon said, after presenting a budget summary to the Chilliwack Rotary Club Friday.

"If they looked at the budget, they'd see an additional $237 million over the next three years, not only for the judicial and court systems, but also for policing," he said.

But, he added, "We're saying the system itself needs reform and we're not just going to keep throwing money in that black hole until we see improvements made there too."

Falcon was reacting to the NDP charge that the BC Liberal government puts a low priority on justice, and has allowed the system to deteriorate over the last 11 years.

NDP Justice Critic Leonard Krog said this has led to a doubling of judicial stays and is proof that justice "doesn't matter" to the BC Liberal government.

"You can't pretend to be tough on crime and you're wasting the efforts of courageous police officers up until the moment of trial, and then tossing it because you don't have enough judges and early enough trial dates," Krog said.

Criminals are walking free as a result of trial delays, he said, and parents are left twisting in an agonizing legal limbo as they try to regain custody of children apprehended by the children and family development ministry.

The Chilliwack courthouse is tied with Surrey for the longest trial delays for adult criminal cases, and tops the list for wait-times for child protection trials.

But Falcon said — and former NDP Attorney-General Ujjal Dosanjh agrees — that court backlogs have long plagued the province.

The finance minister said the province is hiring more judges, court sheriffs and administrative staff.

"But we're also saying we need the court system itself to make some changes to improve their efficiencies," Falcon said.

"Because the reality is, if you roll back the tape to the 1990s when the NDP were government, the same (court backlog) stories were all over the newspaper," he said.

But the present backlog is a "significant part" of what currently ails B.C.'s justice system, he agreed.

"When you have major trials that can take over five years and cost over $100 million, that is a red flag to the public that we have to find a better way to do things," he said.

Dosanjh told a CTV reporter on Feb. 16 that delays in the provincial court system aren't a new phenomenon, and it will take more than money to fix the problem.

Vancouver lawyer Geoffrey Cowper has been hired by the B.C. government to conduct a sweeping review of B.C.'s court system and make recommendations.

But Falcon added he is "challenging the judiciary to do their part in working with government to say, 'Let's try and improve things for the benefit of the public, for the benefit of (court) outcomes and for the benefit of the taxpayer."

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