Crown attorneys would rather quit than do sub-par job: letter

Barb Sweet
Published on April 5, 2013
Newfoundland Supreme Court

Budget cuts will send justice back to pre-Lamer inquiry times, warns a group of Crown attorneys.    

  “The NLCAA (Newfoundland and Labrador Crown Attorneys’ Association) executive has spoken to front-line prosecutors in each of the province’s regions and is seriously concerned that recent reductions in personnel will have significant negative implications in our ability to carry out our responsibilities,” the group of Crown lawyers said in a letter to The Telegram, which can be found on page A6 of today’s paper.

The Crown attorneys are asking the province to reverse the cuts to the Crown attorneys’ office.

“We would have hoped that the expensive lessons of the Lamer Inquiry would not be brushed aside so easily only six years after they were brought to light and addressed,” they said.

The 2006 report by the late former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada Antonio Lamer examining the wrongful murder convictions of three Newfoundland men —  Randy Druken, Greg Parsons and Ronald Dalton — blamed a deeply flawed justice system and prompted a review of the Crown office.

“As a result of that review, the Crown Attorneys’ Office was restructured and additional personnel were hired. These changes were a direct response to the findings of the Lamer Inquiry and designed to ensure that the prosecution of offences was conducted properly and in a manner that ensured public safety while bolstering public confidence in criminal prosecutions,” said the group.

The group said prior to the budget being released the end of March, a hiring freeze had already caused staff shortages in St. John’s and Goose Bay, while the Corner Brook office is short one Crown until January.

And the budget resulted in four Crowns being laid off in

St. John’s and one Crown in central.

“This increased workload has resulted in many Crowns working additional hours of uncompensated overtime each week. Many Crowns have considered alternate employment. … At present, one Crown has resigned, a second Crown has given notice of resignation and is scheduled to leave May 1 and a third Crown has been given an outside offer of employment.

“In last weekend’s Telegram, we learned that another very experienced Crown has announced her intention to leave,” the letter said.

In central, the group said five trial Crowns are left to appear before six provincial court judges and four Supreme Court judges.

“With respect to St. John’s, the layoffs combined with the hiring freeze will cause the number of trial Crowns to fall to pre-Lamer staffing levels. The direct result will be a significant increase in workload.

“Even with increased hours of uncompensated overtime, it is unlikely that the Crowns in St. John’s will be able to complete their duties to the self-imposed standard of professionalism that the Crowns, the courts and the public expect,” the group said.

“Once the standard of prosecution starts to drop, individual Crowns are exposed to personal and professional liability. …

“The increased workload will lead to a further reduction in personnel as experienced Crowns opt to leave to avoid doing a sub-par job and exposing themselves and the department to the possibility of another inquiry that cost the government a little over $11 million in costs and payouts.”