Report on justice reform to guide system-wide change
Economy, Families Thursday, August 30, 2012 9:30 AM

VANCOUVER - An independent report that will guide system-wide reforms to the justice system to increase timeliness and accessibility for all British Columbians was released by Justice Minister and Attorney General Shirley Bond.

In his report, A Criminal Justice System for the 21st Century, Geoffrey Cowper, QC, chair of the Justice Reform Initiative, offers recommendations to government and the judiciary on ways to achieve overall timeliness, improve court and judicial administration and improve the experiences of victims and the community.

Included in the review and also released today is a report from the Legal Services Society examining legal aid funding and a review of B.C.'s charge assessment process submitted by Gary McCuaig, QC.

The B.C. government is reviewing Cowper's report and its recommendations, and in response, will develop an action plan in the form of a white paper released this fall in two stages. The white paper will also consider other reviews and consultations that have taken place under the Justice Reform Initiative, including the Legal Services Society report, McCuaig's report, the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry report, the ongoing public engagement on policing and other current government reform projects.

Cowper's report is part of a justice reform process that began with an internal government audit and the release of a green paper in February 2012, Modernizing British Columbia's Justice System, which outlined some of the challenges with the system. In response to public concern, Premier Christy Clark asked Cowper to review the criminal justice system and to consult with the judiciary, Crown counsel, the legal profession, police and others.

In doing so, he consulted with stakeholder groups, travelled to communities throughout the province, and considered feedback from public submissions to his website:

Upcoming government action on justice reform will address the major challenges that affect public confidence in the justice system. For example, the crime rate is dropping yet there is an increase in the number of cases stayed and delayed, and provincial funding for policing and corrections is up from where it was 10 years ago.

The B.C. government's justice reform activities are a key commitment of the Families First Agenda, which strives to ensure that families have access to justice services and feel safe at home and in their communities. To read the agenda, share your ideas or provide feedback, visit:


Shirley Bond, Minister of Justice and Attorney General -

"We agree with Mr. Cowper that the criminal justice system moves too slowly. This report shows that the issue of timeliness in the justice system is critical for all justice partners - and for the public. British Columbia, like other jurisdictions, has a crime rate that is dropping, while experiencing increasing delays in cases."

"This is an opportunity now for everyone in the justice system to work toward outcomes that create safer communities and more effective justice for victims. We will use this report to build an action plan for making our justice system more timely, more transparent and more effective for all British Columbians."

Geoffrey Cowper, QC, chair of B.C. Justice Reform Initiative -

"Everyone agrees that timeliness is an essential part of effective justice and public confidence - and that the current system is too slow. Proposals and ideas have been advanced by the justice participants, which offer substantial improvements to the present system."

"I have made recommendations aimed at building a better and faster system, such as system-wide standards for timeliness with regular public reporting on the results. Timeliness is necessary and a good start, but there are many other important goals relating to justice and public safety that also need attention. I hope the report and recommendations will help the B.C. government and all the leaders in the justice system meet our expectations for a modern criminal justice system."

Gary McCuaig, author of report on B.C.'s charge approval process -

"In British Columbia, the pre-charge assessment model has a lengthy and proven history. Like any system, it can always be improved. Both the prosecution service and the police have legitimate concerns about improvements to the assessment process that should be discussed. However, in my view, these concerns do not justify radical change."

"At the end of the day, assessments by Crown counsel done before or after the formal charges have been laid are not that much different. Each has strengths and weaknesses; each has proven effective in Canada."

Mark Benton, QC, executive director, Legal Services Society -

"Cowper's thoughtful report does a good job of capturing the complexity of the problems in criminal justice and in identifying where an investment of resources will improve efficiency."

"The Legal Services Society advice looks beyond criminal justice and includes proposals that will promote better outcomes for those in the justice system, for example by making timely, fair and lasting solutions to family legal problems more accessible. Our experience has taught us that early access to legal information and assistance is one of the most effective ways to do this. Our research indicates that helping people to resolve their legal problems faster will not just result in savings in other parts of the justice system but makes it less likely that they will experience legal problems in the future. This benefits the justice system and society as a whole."

Quick Facts:

  • The B.C. government invests over $1 billion annually in public safety and the justice system.
  • In the past six years, the crime rate in B.C. has dropped 33 per cent, and is 45 per cent lower than its all time high in 1991.
  • Expenditures on adult criminal justice personnel and processes have increased by 35 per cent since 2005.
  • The number of new Provincial Court adult criminal and youth cases has declined, but the average amount of court time to conclude them has increased.

Learn More:

View the final report and recommendations:

Read the B.C. government's green paper, Modernizing B.C.'s Justice System:

To see current court and caseload information, visit the data dashboard at:

Three backgrounders follow.


Lauren Mulholland
Ministry of Justice
Government Communications and Public Engagement
250 387-4961


Cowper Report: Summary of Recommendations

Geoffrey Cowper's, QC, report, A Criminal Justice System for the 21st Century, makes a series of recommendations that can be grouped around several themes, including:


Establish a criminal justice and public safety council within the ministry, supported by a secretariat and assisted by an external advisory board. Council responsibilities would include overall management of the criminal justice system, including a justice and safety plan for the province, performance measurement, and annual public progress reporting on criminal justice data.

Performance measures:

Determine and publish system-wide performance measures and hold a periodic justice summit to consider reform progress, and to provide a forum for reform dialogue.

Provincial plans:

Create a domestic violence plan, a crime reduction plan and a justice and safety plan for the province that includes increased use of restorative justice.

Early case resolution:

Expand opportunities to resolve matters before formal charge approval is complete, including streamlining the process of pre-charge reports from police, having Crown counsel file continuity in criminal matters, improving legal aid support to accused, and keep the charge approval process with the prosecution service.

Court Efficiency:

Implement efforts within provincial court to improve scheduling, address case backlogs, shorten time to trial and to ensure efficient use of judicial resources. Obtain project management expertise by the Supreme Court criminal committee to assist in pre-trial and trial management, and developing best practices in complex criminal trial management.

Evidence-based practice regarding offender management:

Implement the risk assessment and behaviour management proposal of BC Corrections, and establish a working group under the council to develop best practices for terms of release into the community and for enforcement and supervision of those conditions.

Provincial Court Reform:

Amend the Provincial Court Act to clarify the role, powers and duties of the provincial court chief judge, executive committee, management committee, and chief executive officer for judicial administration; to permit the Attorney General to refer questions concerning judicial administration to the court; and to provide a means of determining a specific judicial complement.

Improve transparency and responsiveness through client-focused initiatives, with tools like online and courthouse user surveys that focus on service standards and ideas for improvement.

Evaluate dedicated court approaches, such as the Victoria Integrated Court, to determine to their suitability for broad implementation.

The full report can be found at:


Lauren Mulholland
Ministry of Justice
Government Communications and Public Engagement
250 387-4961


Legal Services Society's review of B.C.'s legal aid services

As part of the comprehensive justice reform initiative, the B.C. government asked the Legal Services Society (LSS) for advice on reforms to legal aid. The LSS was also asked to look at ways to create efficiencies in the justice system that might reduce costs so that savings could be reallocated to legal aid.

The LSS report, Making Justice Work: Improving Access and Outcomes for British Columbians, helped to inform the Justice Reform Initiative chaired by Geoffrey Cowper.

The report's proposals are focused on moving towards an outcomes-focused justice system, which is consistent with the Ministry of Justice's strategic goals.

The LSS makes the following recommendations for reform:

Justice reform initiatives:

  • A dedicated reform secretariat.
  • Greater use of specialized, problem-solving courts, such as drug courts or domestic violence courts.

Criminal law initiatives:

  • Expanded criminal duty counsel.
  • Early resolution referrals.
  • Disposition court.
  • Increased use of video bail.

Family law and child protection:

  • Increased availability of existing services by providing more duty counsel and more community-based advice services coupled with assistance for related non-family legal problems.
  • More unbundled services.
  • Support for mediation programs.
  • Expansion of family telephone advice services.

Other recommendations:

  • The use of non-lawyer service providers to assist duty counsel and support justice system efficiencies.
  • Poverty law advice services.
  • Increased services for Aboriginal peoples.

The full report can be found at:


Lauren Mulholland
Ministry of Justice
Government Communications and Public Engagement
250 387-4961


McCuaig's review of B.C.'s charge assessment process

Gary McCuaig, QC, led an external review of the province's criminal charge assessment process as part of the B.C. government's justice reform initiative. McCuaig was asked to determine whether the current model - which requires that Crown prosecutors make the decision to recommend criminal charges, rather than police - is the most effective model for making prosecution decisions in B.C.

In accordance with his terms of reference, McCuaig makes the following recommendations:

  • The current charge assessment standard of "substantial" likelihood of conviction should be retained, rather than moving to a standard that requires a "reasonable" likelihood of conviction.
  • B.C.'s pre-charge assessment process should be retained in its existing form.
  • No directives for improvements to the criminal charge assessment process are needed.
  • The Ministry of Justice should review the use of administrative offences for the purpose of offender management.
  • The Ministry of Justice should review police resources and determine whether there are reports to Crown counsel (RTCCs) that can be assessed with a streamlined investigative package.

McCuaig's report helped to inform Geoffrey Cowper's recommendations on broader justice reform.

The full report can be found in Schedule 11 of the Cowper report:


Lauren Mulholland
Ministry of Justice
Government Communications and Public Engagement
250 387-4961

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