By Suzanne Anton
Attorney General and Minister of Justice
August 30, 2014, marks the two-year anniversary of a report that helped pave the way for significant improvements aimed at making B.C.’s justice system quicker and more accessible for British Columbians. This is a milestone worth marking, as the report serves as a blueprint for reforming the justice system into one that meets the needs and expectations of the people it serves.
A Criminal Justice System for the 21st Century was delivered by legal expert Geoffrey Cowper, based on his extensive review of B.C.’s criminal-justice system. We have made meaningful progress toward achieving the reforms envisioned in Cowper’s report and it’s important that we take the opportunity to share the status of these changes with British Columbians.
So what have we done?
We delivered an action plan for system-wide change in a two-part white paper within months of receiving the report. We passed the Justice Reform and Transparency Act and appointed a Justice and Public Safety Council. The council has responsibility for planning and reporting on system performance.
We also created a provincial domestic violence plan and appointed a blue ribbon panel on crime reduction that will release its findings this fall.
The most common concern raised during Cowper’s consultations was that the system works too slowly. While it is a reality facing B.C. and many other jurisdictions, we are working to change this.
Although 98% of criminal cases are resolved without a trial, some of those resolutions take too long, which undermines the public’s confidence in the system. B.C.’s prosecution service has addressed this challenge with a number of changes, including a file ownership model that will give prosecutors extended responsibility for a file and its resolution. This will provide a quicker resolution of cases, and that’s good for everyone - victims, accused, witnesses and the public.
We are also supporting a new process for scheduling cases. Under the leadership of the Chief Judge, we are working with the Provincial Court to make better use of staff, court and judiciary resources. This new approach will also emphasize the role of prosecutors and the defence in finding early resolutions to cases, which will help to ensure efficient use of court resources and quicker access to justice.
In the near future, we’ll be launching an online civil-resolution tribunal that will help British Columbians settle strata and small-claims disputes quickly and easily online.
This is part of our plan to make the justice system work better for people, by giving them more convenient access to services and more tools to find effective resolutions quicker and at less cost. Doing that will free up the courts to deal with the most serious matters.
But successful change, Cowper stressed, requires all justice system participants to work together. He encouraged collaboration and co-ordination between justice professionals. That’s why we’re proud of the ongoing Justice Summits we’re holding, which bring together justice-sector leaders to engage in frank discussions about how we can work together to make further improvements.
Guided by Cowper’s recommendations and government’s action plan for reforms, I’m confident we are establishing a strong foundation to move forward with practical changes that will improve the experiences of British Columbians who access the justice system over the coming years.
Government Communications and Public Engagement
Ministry of Justice