Lawyers say federal budget can ease ‘crisis’ in courts, but more needs to be done
A few years after her client suffered a serious brain injury in a car crash, Toronto injury lawyer Jasmine Daya thought she was close to finding a solution.
But the preliminary hearing scheduled for last July was postponed due to the pandemic – then postponed when Ontario issued its last stay-at-home order.
“Now my client, who has a brain injury that requires 24 hour care, who doesn’t have access to funds, who doesn’t have the capacity to pay for someone to take care of him – I can’t help it, ”said Daya, managing director of Jasmine Daya & Co., a personal injury law firm.
“The situation is mind-boggling for me right now. I’m having sleepless nights. I’m stressed because I can’t serve my clients.”
She’s not the only one. The Criminal Lawyers’ Association estimates that 100,000 cases are pending in Ontario alone.
The problem is compounded by a directive issued by Ontario Superior Court Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz “Postpone as many questions as possible” during the third wave of the pandemic – including virtual hearings. Similar delays are happening across the country.
The federal government says it is trying to improve access to justice by pledging millions of dollars to make the courts work better, but some lawyers say more needs to be done to control a growing backlog of cases.
New judges to help ease pressure on the system
The federal budget provides $ 49.3 million over five years, and $ 10.4 million per year thereafter, to create 13 new Superior Court judicial positions across the country, including a judge position in Deputy Chief of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador.
“There is an ongoing challenge in hearing cases in a timely manner,” Justice Minister David Lametti told CBC News.
“The new judges will help. They are not the only solution to this, but it will certainly help.”
Brad Regehr, president of the Canadian Bar Association, said the additional judges were badly needed.
“We have an access to justice crisis here in Canada,” said Regehr. “There are not enough judges, so we are happy that there will be the creation of 13 additional judges positions. But we are obviously looking for more than that.”
Regehr said the association was happy with the budgeted funding for asylum seekers, drug courts, diversion for youth justice services and support for reconciliation with youth. Indigenous Peoples.
The budget also provides $ 5.4 million to keep federal courts safe during the pandemic.
“Overall, there are a lot of important initiatives that are supported, but there is still work to be done,” Regehr said.
“We probably need bigger commitments if we are to pursue access to justice and try to improve it.”
The Law Commission could address the problems of access to justice
The $ 18 million pledge to re-establish the Law Commission of Canada, an independent body dedicated to providing advice to the federal government on key legal issues, is buried deep within the 700+ pages of the budget book.
The commission has been shut down twice by Ottawa – most recently in 2006, under the government of Stephen Harper.
The Canadian Bar Association has called for the commission to be reinstated. Regehr said this could help address the access to justice problem by examining how well the justice system incorporates new technologies and lessons learned from the pandemic.
“It would be great for the Law Commission of Canada,” said Regehr.
Lametti said he was inspired by his late mentor – Roderick Macdonald, founding president of the Law Commission of Canada – to push for his rebirth.
He said he could see the commission addressing issues such as systemic racism and discrimination in the justice system, environmental justice, Indigenous reconciliation and access to justice.
“He did a revolutionary job and he has to do a revolutionary job,” Lametti said.
The budget will not soon improve the backlog
Daya said the federal plan offered nothing to immediately relieve the pressure lawyers are under due to the backlog of cases.
“I see a problem that we were already having ballooning into something even bigger,” Daya said. “Stopping the virtual process is a big mistake because, again, it creates an additional backlog and denies access to justice.”
Lametti said he was ready to work on solutions, but stressed that the provinces are responsible for running their own justice system.
He said court administrators were doing an admirable job getting through the pandemic.
“Yes, some cases have been referred, cases that could be. But they will be heard as soon as they can,” Lametti said.
“We will continue to ensure, through technology and other means, that we continue to have a functioning justice system.”