'Talk is cheap': Chief justice slams federal government's failure to fill court vacancies

The Chief Justice of Saskatchewan's Court of Queen's Bench is blasting the federal government for failing to fill vacancies in Saskatoon, Regina and Battleford.

In a rare interview, Chief Justice Martel Popescul said Saskatchewan could soon be forced to dismiss serious criminal cases because of a shortage of justices on the bench.

"The government has to step up to the plate and respond to their responsibility to fill the vacancies in a timely fashion, which thus far they have not done in this province," Popescul told CBC News this week.

Government promises action but doesn't deliver: Popescul

Popescul said he's been assured repeatedly that action will be taken, but nothing changes.

"I've been told that for a number of months and talk is cheap," he said.

No one from the federal Department of Justice was available for comment Wednesday.

Three vacancies of the total compliment of 33 have lingered for up to 18 months and counting, Popescul said. He said the remaining justices and court staff have worked extremely hard to compensate for the shortage, but the pace is not sustainable.

"That's the number that's needed to fullfill the job. When vacancies are not filled, it does create problems," he said.

"That starts to put a strain on the system."

Plenty of qualified candidates

Popescul, who hails from the southern Saskatchewan town of Bengough and is a graduate of the University of Regina and University of Saskatchewan, was appointed chief justice in 2011. He said there are plenty of qualified candidates. He said the delay is likely the appointment process put in place under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government.

Last year, in the case of "R v.Jordan," the Supreme Court of Canada set time limits for serious criminal cases to be completed — 18 months for provincial court matters and 30 months for higher courts. Murder cases in Alberta and Ontario have already been thrown out as a result.

Popescul said there's no chance of that happening in Saskatchewan at the moment. He said that could change quickly if the vacancies linger and other justices retire.

There's currently one vacancy in each of Regina, Saskatoon and Battleford.

The Saskatchewan government appoints provincial court judges. All Court of Queen's Bench and Saskatchewan Court of Appeal Justices are appointed federally.