© — Telegram file photo
Justice Minister Darin King
The government may be prepared to soften the blow to a department left reeling by provincial budget cuts.
On Monday, a newly struck committee will meet to review whether or not the cuts to The Department of Justice were too deep.
And while Justice Minister Darin King wouldn’t make any promises about reinstating positions, he said there could be a reduction in the number of job losses.
“The committee is not intended to revert everything back to where we were before the budget. Nor is it window dressing,” King said Friday.
“We’re going to take a good, long look at it and make adjustments where needed.”
The committee will be made up of King; Attorney General Tom
Marshall; Finance Minister Jerome Kennedy; Nick Avis, chairman of the Newfoundland and Labrador Legal Aid Commission; Donovan Molloy, director of public prosecutions; Ernie Boone, the province’s high sheriff; and St. John’s lawyer Bob Simmonds, representing the legal profession.
King said the decision to form the committee was in response to the immense outcry from the public and those within the justice system to cuts in the department.
“I recognize the feedback we’ve been getting and the concerns expressed to us,” King said.
“When we made the decision (to make cuts), we didn’t take it lightly. But it’s clear there are concerns from public and from professionals.”
He said that has concerned him, Marshall and Premier Kathy Dunderdale.
“She’s given me direction to put together this committee to see what we need to do,” he said.
“We want to make sure we don’t compromise public confidence.”
He said the biggest concerns expressed to him have focused around public safety and justice — more specifically, the loss of Crown prosecutors, sheriff’s officers and legal aid lawyers.
When the budget was first announced last week, it was announced that four Crown prosecutors would lose their jobs, while the sheriff’s office in St. John’s would be slashed in half — from 40 sheriff’s officers to 20.
Legal aid may lose up to eight lawyers.
“We are absolutely prepared to make changes if necessary,” he said. “We’re prepared to listen to what this committee has to say.”
King said he will take the committee’s recommendations to the premier, who will make the final determination on what changes, if any, need to be made.
He said the meeting will likely get underway mid-Monday and may be extended into Tuesday, but he expects to have a plan for justice in place by the end of next week.
King said if government decides to reverse some of the cuts, the money doesn’t necessarily have to come from other departments.
“The budget is spread across all government,” he said.
“If we reinvest and it’s determined we cut too much in some areas … we will simply try to come up with the money.”
In a news release Friday, Liberal leader Dwight Ball and opposition justice critic Andrew Parsons said they are encouraged by government’s decision to form a committee to evaluate the impacts of the cuts, but added it should’ve been formed long before the budget was announced.
“This is a step in the right direction towards ensuring that justice is delivered in a fair and effective manner,” Ball said.
“However, this in-depth consultation method should have occurred initially when cuts to the department were being determined.”
Parsons said this wasn’t government’s first time cutting before consulting.
“We’ve seen it countless times in this budget,” he said, “and this kind of approach has drastic effects on the way justice is served in this province.”