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.