Justice Minister Jerome Kennedy Telegram photo
Justice Minister Jerome Kennedy released a report this morning that provides recommendations aimed at streamlining the operations of the criminal justice system - from the time of arrest to adjudication - in the province.
Recommendations cover much of the criminal process, including decreasing the amount of time between arrest and appearance in court, timely release of information from the Crown Attorneys' Office, reduction of delays throughout the court process by all involved and improved case management at provincial court by adopting the Case Assignment and Retrieval System.
The report states that the current average length of a criminal proceeding is about one year but could be reduced to three or four months along with a reduction in remand time served by accused.
In support of these recommendations, funding will be provided in Budget 2008, and amendments to the Provincial Court Act, 1991 and the Legal Aid Act will be tabled during the spring session of the House of Assembly.
"When I established this task force in late 2007, I asked its members to provide recommendations on how the processes of criminal justice in our province could be made more efficient, and thus, fair to all involved," Kennedy said.
"Delayed court proceedings lead to stress upon the victims of crime and the justice system. Those who have been victimized by crime, as well as the innocent, should not have to face prolonged distress. I am pleased with the recommendations of the task force which will help decrease the frequency of such situations and I assure its members and the public I will take all necessary steps to make the recommendations which fall within my authority a reality."
Budget 2008 will provide an additional $400,000 to the Legal Aid Commission to allow choice of counsel for those facing the charges of murder and manslaughter.
"Legal Aid is a critical component of our justice system and those who avail of its services should be allowed counsel of their choice in these specific circumstances," Kennedy said. "In recognition of this, our government is increasing funding to Legal Aid and will also table the required legislative change to the Legal Aid Act. This initiative should prevent delay in court proceedings caused by repeated requests from accused individuals to change appointed counsel."
While the task force has made recommendations to improve operations of the provincial court, many initiatives have already been undertaken.
Video conferencing is being employed with increasing regularity as almost all courts in Newfoundland and Labrador have this technology. As a result of the Lamer Inquiry, significant changes have been made with respect to the processes of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) and the Crown Attorneys' Office for dealing with criminal matters.
The RNC is moving forward with electronic disclosure while the Crown Attorneys' Office is restructuring so that paralegals and legal assistants prepare disclosure packages.
Budget 2008 also includes funding for an intake officer for the Legal Aid Commission, a trial co-ordinator for provincial court, and a paralegal for the Crown Attorneys' Office, as recommended in the report, which will result in an annualized investment of $138,000.
Another recommendation of the report is the use of per diem judges. Sometimes, a case comes to resolution just prior to a scheduled court time and unused courtrooms result.
In these situations, a per diem judge will be able to proceed in the vacant courtroom with another trial on the court docket. To support this recommendation, Budget 2008 will include $177,100 to allow retired judges to act as per diem judges, when required, for provincial court in St. John's.
As well, an amendment to the Provincial Court Act, 1991 will be brought to the House of Assembly this session to allow for per diem judges in Newfoundland and Labrador. Having retired judges ready to proceed with other cases will ensure that vacant courtrooms are kept to a minimum and backlogs do not occur.
More coverage in Thursday's Telegram.