Justice system under pressure

John Crosbie
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Second in a two-part series

When I joined the bar of Newfoundland in 1957, there were only three trial court judges hearing all civil and criminal cases in St. John’s and from around the province, and hearing appeals together.

It was incredible that for so long in Newfoundland we should have had a situation where a trial judge would sit in judgment in the Appeal Court with other judges and hear an appeal of his own judgment. This meant it was unlikely the trial judge was going to disavow his own judgment on the appeal, and that was an unsatisfactory situation that should never have been permitted to exist. Thankfully, it was not long after this that the number of judges on the Supreme Court was expanded and that practice ended.

A July 26th article in The Telegram noted that St. John’s had the fourth-highest crime rate in Canada in 2012, according to Statistics Canada. We had the fourth-highest police-reported crime rate in all the metropolitan areas in 2012, and our crime rate was 7,056 per 100,000 people, down slightly from 2011. However, we still have, together with Kelowna, B.C., and Regina and Saskatoon, Sask., higher rates than Halifax or even Montreal.

Anyone who reads our newspapers or listens to news reports hears of a tremendous number of court cases concerning impaired or drunk-driving incidents, breaking and entering, and many other crimes, many as a result of increased illegal use of drugs by young people. So, on the criminal side, we still have a great need for adequate and improved police and judicial facilities across our province.

There is no doubt, in my view, that lawyers have made a great contribution to the economic, social and political life of this province, with many of them participating in active politics and becoming leaders of government. Some have achieved great eminence within politics and government, as well as within the profession. A few examples that come to mind are Dr. William Whiteway, Lord Edward Patrick Morris, Sir Richard Squires, former mayor of St. John’s William G. Adams, and judges such as Chief Justice Lewis Edward Emerson, Judge William Higgins and T. Alex Hickman, who was chief justice for many years, and there are many others.

There is no doubt that it is long past time for our provincial government to provide proper facilities for legal activities in both criminal and civil trial cases, since our main facilities and headquarters are all in bad need of reconstruction, expansion and modernization. Witnesses need to be looked after before they testify, lawyers must be provided with the services they need in those buildings and the judges should be given proper facilities so that justice can be provided promptly and fairly.

A possible location for a new courthouse is the former Grace Hospital site on LeMarchant Road.

In practising law, every practitioner knows that, as Charles Lambe observed in 1833, “he is no lawyer who cannot take two sides.”

With respect to the proper practise of law, there is a French proverb worth keeping in mind: “If you’ve a good case try to compromise; if a bad one take it into court.”

In 1893, the great songwriter W.S. Gilbert wrote a verse saying:

“Whether you’re an honest man or whether you’re a thief

Depends on whose solicitor has given me a brief.”

With respect to the issue of whether there should be a law school initiated at Memorial University or not, the main issue may be who is to cover the cost of such a facility. If the funding is to come from the government of Newfoundland and Labrador, this might affect whether or not — and the time within which — the great deal of money needed to improve the inadequate and unsatisfactory and inefficient court facilities of the Supreme Court Appeal Division, the Supreme Court trial judges and the provincial court judges within our metropolitan area will have proper funding as was spent in Corner Brook.

I believe this to be the greatest priority for our judicial system. There is convincing evidence that a great number of those who wish to become lawyers can study outside our province, which is an important factor in any sensible decision about what the priority should be for spending and improving our justice and judicial systems.

The time has come for our provincial government to cease delay. The need is now, and the government must proceed with action to address the inadequate court facilities talked about and requested as far back as 2004 by Chief Justice Derek Green of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland.

Decision is needed now, not further inert procrastination.

The St. John’s area should have one large building with all the needs for court space, judges’ offices, witness facilities, jurors’ needs and Family Court, as well for sheriffs and security. This is simply the most cost-effective solution.

 John Crosbie welcomes your feedback by email at telegram@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Supreme Court, Statistics Canada, Grace Hospital

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, Kelowna Saskatoon Sask. Corner Brook

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