Courtroom delays lead B.C. judge to dismiss speeding tickets

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Three people caught speeding in Metro Vancouver had their fines dismissed after a judge decided their cases took too long to get through provincial court. 

The tickets were issued to Nicholas Karner, Mark Smith and Reny Yue between July 4 and July 6, 2015, but the hearing wasn't scheduled until about two weeks ago. 

In his judgment, Justice Brent Adair said the 21-month delay was "well beyond the guidelines set out by the Supreme Court of Canada.

"Rather, it appears that the lack of adequate funding to the responsible bureaucracy has resulted in the delay in getting this matter to trial."

Adair added that an application for a judicial stay under the Charter would "almost certainly be granted," but would require the defendants to jump through more hurdles and "strain already scarce judicial resources."

'It's not working for people'

Delays in provincial court have been a long-standing issue in B.C.

B.C. NDP justice critic Mike Farnworth said more sheriffs and judges are needed to keep the system running.

He said the problem is spread out across the province, with cases ranging from traffic tickets to illicit drug charges. 

"This is not how the justice system is supposed to function, and it's not working for people," Farnworth said.

"The government needs to understand that the court system is one of the foundations of our society."

Farnworth said the delays undermine public confidence in the judicial system. 

Progress noted

Last October, the province said it had been making progress in reducing the backlog in the justice system. 

At the time, lawyer Geoffrey Cowper's update to his 2012 report for the provincial government said there had been "systemic improvement by every player in the justice system in B.C."

The number of discontinued cases had dropped to 13 in 2016 from 122 in 2012.

And last month, the province announced that, starting June 1, civil claims under $5,000 would be adjudicated in an online tribunal as part of further efforts to free capacity within the judicial system. 

Anton defends the system

Justice Minister​ Suzanne Anton, running for re-election in Vancouver-Fraserview, argues that B.C.'s progress in reducing the number of cases stayed for delays is like "night and day" compared to other provinces.  

"There may continue to be some outliers, but B.C. has almost been infinitely better positioned than any other province in Canada in terms of cases stayed for delayed," she said.  

"We've done that by taking things out of court rooms. So, for example, impaired driving [cases] — now [go to] the civil resolution tribunal for minor small claims cases. We've also made sure there's good court supply by making sure the number of provincial court judges is maintained."

Anton pointed out that only 13 cases were dismissed in 2016, compared to 122 in 2012. 

"What these [measures] are doing is taking more minor matters out of courtrooms so that the courtrooms are freed up for the more serious matters that really do need to be there," she said.

With files from CBC's Brenna Rose and Tanya Fletcher