Weighing justice cuts

Rosie Gillingham and Ashley Fitzpatrick
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How many affected by cuts in the department is in dispute

Justice Minister Darin King speaks to reporters in front of the House of Assembly Thursday afternoon. King says the government has been “very transparent” about layoffs within his department. — Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram

Trying to nail down the exact number of cuts in the Justice Department is like trying to cuff a greased pig.    

   Depending on who you talk to, the figures around job losses and other reductions in services vary.

In all, close to 1,200 people in government face layoffs. Among them are positions in the Crown’s office and sheriff’s office. Programs such as the Family Violence Intervention Court (FVIC) were also slashed.

Even the government’s numbers have changed since budget day.

At that time, Justice Minister Darin King said four Crown prosecutors would be laid off.

On Thursday, he told reporters, that number would be two.

“As we’re moving through, looking at who has chosen to retire and to move on and looking at who’s remaining, what we’re finding is that we can maximize the salary block so that there’s only going to be two fewer Crown prosecutors in St. John’s,” King said.

The day after the budget was announced, he told reporters that only 10 people availed of FVIC last year.

On Thursday, he admitted that number was incorrect. He said the figures went from 41 in the first year, to 39 the next and 21 last year.

“I stand to be corrected, so I will clarify for you after, but my understanding is that we will see through any of the cases that are currently in the system,” he said.

 

However, according to provincial court’s 2011-12 annual report, obtained by The Telegram, 58 people appeared in FVIC last year, which is slightly less than the previous fiscal year, when 63 people appeared.

The report states that 45 people agreed to participate.

Twenty-two of those people successfully completed the programming, 16 were attending programming and three were awaiting programming.

The numbers of Crown prosecutors was of the most concern for King, who said the figures media are quoting are inaccurate.

Reports have stated that the Crown’s office had 25 prosecutors last year and that it’s been reduced to 15.

“That is totally false information,” King said.

He pointed out that some of the prosecutors were contractual, while others were on paid leave.

According to information provided to The Telegram there may have been 25 prosecutors who had at some time or another worked cases during the year.

King said there was never a time when all of them were employed by government at the same time.

However, a source within the Crown’s office said the minister is including numbers at Special Prosecutions, which is separate from the Crown’s office.

King said the government has been “very transparent,” but added “being transparent is a two-way street.” He said the department will make exact numbers available as they “settle out.”

He has no dispute with the reports regarding the losses to the sheriff’s office.

Twenty of 40 officers were given layoff notices. Fourteen of the layoffs are effective as of today, with the remaining six slated to be laid off by April 26.

King has said publicly that even with the layoffs, the number of sheriff’s officers are higher now than they were four or five years ago.

Those comments had sheriff’s officers at court fuming.

“The justice minister is out to lunch,” one deputy said. “I’d like to know where he’s getting his information, but his numbers are way off.”

Sheriff’s officers told The Telegram that once layoffs take effect, there will be at least four

fewer officers than there were in 2006.

However, the problem is, they say, that there are more demands on them these days, with the introduction of security screening — which ties up at least three officers at each of the two points of entry into provincial court — and the increase in violent crimes.

There are presently at least a half-dozen ongoing murder cases, which require more security.

Officers are also often expected to cover shortages in other circuits around the province, they say.

“Makes us feel very under-valued,” another sheriff’s officer said.

The minister has said that the government will continue to monitor the situation and add officers if needed in certain situations.

“But if I’m laid off, you think I’m going to sit at home and wait to get a call when (accused murderer) Philip Pynn comes to court?” another sheriff’s officer said.

“It’s not fair.”

As for the effect the cuts will have on the Newfoundland and Labrador Legal Aid Commission, those have yet to be determined as its board is still reviewing its decreased budget.

 

rgillingham@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @TelyCourt

 

Organizations: The Telegram, Justice Department, Special Prosecutions Newfoundland and Labrador Legal Aid Commission

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Recent comments

  • Popeye
    April 05, 2013 - 21:43

    Where were these Ministers when brains were given out? They sure missed the bus as is evident in the budgetary process. Maybe they should enroll in an ABE course, and oh yes, not at a private institution.

  • Johnathan w
    April 05, 2013 - 09:10

    King and Dunderdale need to admit they have made some big mistakes with justice. On top off mistakes they are trying to cover everything up with lies: providing incorrect numbers on sheriff's officers, family violence court, and the prosecution office to hopefully mislead Newfoundlanders. The exposure of these lies really brings forward the question; what other topics is the govt currently lying and misleading the public about!! If King and Dunderdale have any dignity they need to admit they made some serious miscalculations when making cuts to justice. They need to hire these people back before someone is physically hurt in court or are convicted of a crime they didn't commit. KING! Fix your mistakes before it is too late!! Put your honor to the side and do what is right for Newfoundlanders.

  • Fred
    April 05, 2013 - 08:25

    It absolutely ceases to amaze me how stupid the government thinks we are. I agree that the Minister King should take 3 days and spend a day with each of the Crown Prosecutors, Legal Aid defence lawyers and Sheriff's officers. He will very, very quickly find out how much work they do and the need to increase the number of each instead of decreasing. They are a vital component of our justice system. To gut them is bringing us back in time to the 1700-1800's. The way the government is moving, debtor's prisons are not too far behind. Disgracefull

  • darls
    April 05, 2013 - 07:28

    HOW CAN SUCH A SEEMLY SMART MAN THINK THE REST OF US ARE STUPID....are his glasses a little fogged...my god I can't believe the spin he puts on his lies....get you resume ready..iF anyone is STUPID ENOUGH TO HIRE YOU...cheers

  • CODKILLER
    April 05, 2013 - 07:11

    I challenge the Minister to meet with Deputy Sheriff's Face to Face so he can actually understand what they do. But the arrogance he shows and the spins he puts on everything that is doubtful. At least we will have all these articles and quotes from the Minister forr the Enquiry down the road

  • Redgrave
    Redgrave
    April 05, 2013 - 06:22

    Of course Darin King doesn't need to lay off four prosecutors. Some have up and quit. He's dodging the question like a true weasel. He fully intended to lay them off. I notice he's sweating bullets over the sheriff lay offs as well. Perhaps a few days in lock up for Mr King would change his opinion. What do you say, we make him Newfoundland's "Brubaker".

    • Tammy
      April 05, 2013 - 08:48

      I think Minister King needs to live a day in the life of a Sheriff's Officer to see what it is they actually do. He must not have any idea of their duties and responsibilities. If he did, he would never think it was safe to run 4 court houses, over 20 courtrooms, two screening devices, prisoner transport, prisoner escort, guard duty, cover circuit courts, take care of juries, respond to violent outbursts and other emergencies with just that many. If he actually did it for a week, I'm sure he would understand it is impossible!! When an emergency takes place, like the fire department, Sheriff's need numbers to respond quickly as a team. Sheriff's work plenty of overtime, obviously they must of been short staffed at 40, how about now? How can they justify cutting them in half when they were already working overtime.