Crown attorneys speak out

Published on April 5, 2013

In response to the recent reductions

in personnel at the Crown Attorneys’ Office, the Newfoundland and Labrador Crown Attorneys’ Association (NLCAA) would like to submit the following comments.

The NLCAA represents the majority of the prosecuting attorneys in the criminal division of the Department of Justice. The NLCAA 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.

It is important to remember that following the Lamer Inquiry, the Crown Attorneys’ Office conducted an internal review of our office to address issues within public prosecutions identified by Justice Antonio Lamer as contributing factors to three men being wrongfully convicted.

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.

Prior to the release of the budget, a hiring freeze resulted in staffing shortages in the St. John’s and Goose Bay offices. The Corner Brook office is also short one Crown until January 2014. These staffing shortages have resulted in significant workload increases for these offices.

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.

Last week, the layoff of four Crowns in St. John’s and one Crown in the

central region of the province was announced. In central, as a result of this cut, there will only be five trial Crowns 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. These duties are largely done outside of the courtroom.

Prior to appearing in court, hours and sometimes days are spent reviewing a file, corresponding with investigative agencies, defence counsel, Victim Services and witnesses. This pre-trial work is as important as anything a Crown does inside the courtroom.

Once the standard of prosecution starts to drop, individual Crowns are exposed to personal and professional liability. This will undoubtedly cause further shortages as Crowns feel compelled to seek employment outside of the criminal division.

The NLCAA appreciates that the government has a duty to be fiscally responsible.

The association’s concerns are that recent personnel decisions will result in an immediate and significant reduction in the ability of the remaining Crowns to complete all of their duties to the standard that we, the courts and the public expect. 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. The long term effect will see experienced Crowns leave and make recruiting experienced replacements difficult.

The NLCAA had intended to address our concerns directly with the minister of Justice, the attorney general and the director of public prosecutions internally, but recent comments in the media have compelled the association to make a public response.

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.

The association requests that

the government of Newfoundland

and Labrador reverse the layoffs, advertise to fill the positions that were vacant prior to the budget-related layoffs and hiring freeze, while simultaneously engaging the association in discussions to review the reductions

in prosecution and administrative resources.

Editor’s note: while The Telegram’s policy is that letters to the editor must be signed, the NLCAA asked that this letter be submitted as coming from its entire executive to prevent possible repercussions to individual members.