Delays in making judicial appointments threatening the quality of justice in B.C.

BC's judicial system is doing more with less, but at a cost.

BC's judicial system is doing more with less, but at a cost.

Since 2005, B.C. has remained Canada's only province to see a net decline in its number of provincial judges. According to provincial court figures updated in April, the number of provincial judges hovers around 128. That's about 15 judges below the 144 the court had in 2005.

According to a 2010 report issued by the office of the chief judge of B.C., the drop in the number of judges in the province since 2005 has been caused by delays in provincial judicial appointments, as older judges retired or elected to work part-time.

Since January 2011, the government has appointed 15 new judges. But 18 have elected to work part-time and eight have since retired. The report said the government needs to restore the number of judges to 2005 levels to keep pace with the increasing number and complexity of new cases before the provincial courts.

It noted that a failure to adequately fund the provincial courts has increased delays in processing civil and criminal cases in B.C. The latest figures from the court show that a majority of adult criminal cases in the province face delays of more than six months. Between 2010 and 2011, the number of cases with delays of more than a year has risen 10% to 7,607 from 6,894.

Judges have been working harder to mitigate the backlog in the system. But the number of new cases each judge has to try has risen to 1,156 in 2010-11 from 991 in 2005-06.

The situation has worsened significantly for cases with delays of more than 18 months. As of September 2011, 2,522 cases had delays of that length. That's up from 2,038 in 2010. The report warned that those cases could be stayed due to "unreasonable delays in having [the accused's] trial heard." •

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