News

Court wait times are down

TIME TO get to trial has decreased here in the last three years, meaning criminal court cases are getting through the court system quicker, according to the government's latest report, released last fall.

The latest update to the Justice Delayed report, dated Sept. 30, saw Terrace avoid the top 10 for delays in time to trial for adult criminal half-day trials and adult criminal two-day trials.

That means Terrace is at, or below, the standard set by the provincial chief judge.

Gene Jamieson, legal officer for the Office of the Chief Judge (OCJ), said it's not known what place Terrace is in now as only the top 10 are ranked.

“Terrace had a six month waiting time to both criminal half-day and criminal two-day or longer trials,” he said.

“Therefore, Terrace was at the OCJ standard for criminal half-day trials and better than the eight-month OCJ standard for criminal two-day trials.”

The standards used by the chief judge were developed by the court in 2005 as a benchmark, taking into account the law set out by the Supreme Court of Canada as to what is considered an unreasonable delay under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, he added.

As for what factors have contributed to the reduction in the time to trial here, the factors would likely include efforts of judges assigned to the area; the backlog reduction initiative undertaken earlier this year that's  still in progress; overall reduction in the number of new cases brought before the provincial court, which could include a reduction in impaired driving cases and others; having judges from other parts of the region who are available sitting here in person or by video, he said.

When Justice Delayed: A Report of the Provincial Court of BC Concerning Judicial Resources, was first released, as of September 30, 2010, Terrace was in first place with a 15 month delay to get to trial for adult criminal half-day trials and in second place for adult criminal two-day trials, also with 15 months.

In the first example, Terrace was tied with Surrey and in the second, Terrace was tied with Dawson Creek.

The city didn't get any new judges from 2009 thru 2013, although local prosecutor Terence Wright was appointed to the bench in 2012 in Smithers and has sat in Terrace.

Judge Calvin Struyk was appointed in March 2008 to replace Ed de Walle who had moved to Salmon Arm in September 2007, after 16 years on the bench here.

From 1991 to 2004, Terrace had two sitting judges.

When Judge Paul Lawrence retired in 2004, he left the city with one sitting judge and it's been the same ever since.

Neil MacKenzie, communications counsel for the provincial Criminal Justice Branch, said the delay in cases getting to trial has improved in the whole province.

“It's always a concern getting cases to court in a timely manner and when any case is beyond 18 months, it can be a concern,” he said.

“It (the shorter delay to trial here) is partly clearly due to the immediate roadside prohibition, which results in fewer impaired driving cases coming to the court system since 2010 when that was implemented.

“I don't know if all the decrease can be attributed to one factor more than another.

“We've certainly seen substantially fewer impaired cases as police deal with the majority of them.”

He explained there may also be fewer more-complicated or fewer time-consuming cases coming into the court system.

In general, the number of cases can fluctuate from year to year.

Whether the decrease will continue isn't certain.

It depends on where judges are assigned but certainly more judicial time can affect the amount of cases able to be handled in any particular area, said MacKenzie.

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