Sifting through the system: criminal justice summit finding fixes

Sifting through the system: criminal justice summit finding fixes

Hiring more Crown attorneys and a potential drug court for Newfoundland and Labrador are two ways of speeding up the criminal justice system, to meet strict new timelines set by the Supreme Court of Canada, a summit in St. John's was told Tuesday. 

Provincial Justice Minister Andrew Parsons said he's willing to listen to any ideas, because the timelines laid down in the Jordan decision are "a big challenge." 

"Some if it may have to be increased resources," he said, noting that three new Crown attorney positions have been added to help move cases through the system.

"I don't think it's just a case of throwing money at the problem," Parsons said. 

"In many cases if you want to look at changing policy and changing procedure there's no cost to that. And that's where this meeting comes down to 'can we do things differently?'"

"Just because we've done things a certain way for so long doesn't mean we have to stay entrenched in that view."

Keeping cases out of court

The Jordan decision set requirements for criminal cases to get to trial within 18 to 30 months, and has led to several acquittals in this province – including two involving major drug investigations using significant police resources. 

Some of the changes being discussed include using restorative justice, mental health and addictions treatment to keep people out of the criminal system, drug court, and looking at each step from arrest to sentencing. 

Judges, lawyers, police officers, advocates, and corrections officers attended Tuesday's meeting. 

Parsons said roughly 40 per cent of people in jail in this province are awaiting trial, compared to almost 65 per cent in Ontario.

The average cost of incarceration is about $110,000 a year. "So I think that just putting people in jail is a very expensive proposition, and it's not the best proposition when we talk about rehabilitation, deterrents."

'Doing it right'

"Clearly there are very real concerns," said the parliamentary secretary to the federal Justice Minister, Bill Blair, who attended Tuesday's summit.

"There's an old saying, 'justice delayed is justice denied.' And people have a right to timely justice, not only for offenders in the system but for the victims of crime," said Blair, who's a former Toronto police chief. 

Blair said this summit is part of a national conversation on how to make the whole system more efficient.

"We're looking at how we can, through legislative change and through investment, find ways to help them become more efficient in the way they're doing their job, but it is absolutely essential that we work together on this."

Drug court for N.L.? 

He said new funding for mental health care is one of the ways the federal government is already helping, and Ottawa has funded a study into setting up a drug treatment court in Newfoundland and Labrador as well. 

"Those drug treatment courts have been utilized in a number of other jurisdictions across the country and proven very effective" for people involved, said Blair. 

There's no timeline for when some of these major changes to the criminal justice system may come into place. 

"I'm not given to a precise date, except it's work that's necessary and we're absolutely committed to getting it done and doing it right," said Blair.