We write in response to a letter that was recently published in The Telegram by Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons (“The provincial government and thoughtless cuts,” June 7). Once again, Mr. Parsons is twisting information in an effort to undermine the public’s confidence in the justice system in Newfoundland and Labrador.
This year’s budget provided all departments an opportunity to review their core program offerings and identify areas where savings could be found while continuing to provide important services efficiently and effectively. While the Department of Justice did see reductions, the overall budget for the department has increased from $145 million in 2005-06 to approximately $240 million this year — a 66 per cent increase in just eight years.
Mr. Parsons states that government should be conducting comprehensive reviews. That is exactly what we are doing with regard to the Legal Aid system and the Sheriff’s Office. The details of both reviews were just released and we expect to receive both reports in early fall.
In his letter, Mr. Parsons mentions the Public Prosecutions Office.
Following the delivery of the Lamer Inquiry Report, the recommendations concerning public prosecutions and the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary were swiftly acted upon and both were revitalized as a result of significant investments made by this government.
There was an increase in the number of personnel as well as improvements in areas such as training, resources, policies and procedures and an enhancement in overall professional standards. Even more importantly perhaps, through increased awareness and strong leadership, there was a significant shift in the culture of the Public Prosecutions Office and the RNC that led to a new and improved way of delivering justice services in the province.
With regard to the circuit courts, Mr. Parsons is well aware that the provincial government did not make the decision to close certain ones.
The decision was made by the provincial court chief judge after he conducted a comprehensive review with an aim of determining best practices and realizing efficiencies.
This is just the type of comprehensive review that Mr. Parsons called for in his letter.
The operational costs of the courts was only one component as the review involved an assessment of individual circuit caseloads, sitting times, collapse rates and proximity to other circuit locations and home courts. The decision to close some circuit courts was not made lightly but was based on hard information. As one example, each time a circuit court was held in Burgeo, the busy provincial court in Stephenville had to be closed for an entire day. This, while the caseload in Burgeo was steadily declining and many of the matters could be dealt with over the phone.
Mr. Parsons urges government to conduct reviews and then make decisions based on the findings. This is exactly what was done with the circuit courts and yet he is still critical of the decisions that were made.
We wish to assure the people of the province that the justice system in Newfoundland and Labrador remains strong and that the people working in it are exceptional at what they do. Ensuring that residents have fair access to the justice system and that they can live safely in their communities remain our top priorities.
Hon. Darin King
Minister of Justice
Hon. Tom Marshall, Q.C.,