By Alethea Wiesner, Daily News Staff, Nov. 17, 1998
In a last minute change of plans, B.C. Crown Prosecutors are holding off on plans to take direct control of their own caseloads after intensive talks with B.C. Assistant Deputy Attorney General Ernie Quantz.
The precedent-setting move, which would have had Crown Counsel refusing to accept cases they didn’t have time to prepare for, was scheduled to take place yesterday. Previously, the 350-member B.C. Crown Counsel Association (BCCCA) voted 95 per cent in favour of the job action.
BCCCA secretary Shirley Pederson said Quantz affirmed key points for the association during talks in Vancouver on Thursday and Friday, including that counsel should only accept cases they can effectively prosecute.
“In other words, if Crown Counsel are of the opinion they can’t effectively prosecute a file because they haven’t had sufficient opportunity to prepare for it, they won’t accept it and the case may need to be adjourned”, said Pederson.
The decision contrasts vastly with statements made by BCCCA President Wendy Stephen last week. Saying the government wanted to stick its head in the sand on the issue of provincial justice, Stephen insisted the association’s job action wouldn’t change “one iota”.
The proposed job action and ensuing discussions come in the wake of a report by Chief Judge Robert Metzger, which said the provincial justice system was in crisis and on the verge of collapse. His statistics showed 29 new judges were needed to keep up with population growth.
In response, the Attorney general’s office released a statement saying 19 new judges had been added in the last six years –however, 17 of those judges were added as a result of jurisdictional changes. When retirement is taken into consideration, there is exactly the same number of judges this year as last: 138.
However, Pederson said the government now appears to be taking steps to address the backlog in provincial courts, which has 20,000 cases pushed back every year. Five new judges are being appointed according to Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh, who said B.C. already spends more per capita on prosecution services than any other jurisdiction in Canada.
The Association will be also working with the Criminal Justice Branch on detailed Crown Counsel work guidelines, which will be presented over the next few weeks. Debates over workloads have been ongoing since an independently chaired Workload Committee was established in 1994 but which has yet to make a report. A deadline of Feb. 1, 1999 has been set for the committee to report.
Crown Counsel will go to mediation with Vince Ready and Judy Korbin on a new contract to replace one which expired between the government and association on March 31. Previously, government had refused to negotiate unless issues of workload, salaries, pension benefits and holidays were removed from the table. If mediation isn’t completed by February 1, 1999 the BCCCA will seek binding arbitration.