Justice Minister Andrew Parsons said the rationale for reversing the decision was two-fold, cost-savings and a decision brought down by the Supreme Court on July 8.
The case, R v. Jordan, gives a specific length of time beyond which a criminal case is deemed unconstitutional. The time period it gives 18 months for a provincial case and 30 months for a Supreme Court case. Beyond that, a case could potentially be thrown out of court due to an infringement of the accused’s charter rights.
Parsons said the case has huge implications, both nationally and closer to home.
“No one could have anticipated what the results of that were going to be and that is the most significant criminal procedure course in our country in decades,” he said. “The fact is that we now have actual, identifiable ceilings. Everyone has the right to have a trial within a reasonable period of time and before, there were extraneous factors that came into play but now, boom, there’s a fixed time.”
He said an analysis of the dockets in the province might already show cases where people might be able to say their charter rights were infringed because they didn’t have their trial within a reasonable period. Adding to the burden placed on courthouses was not feasible, Parsons said.
“So here we are taking two courts, particularly Harbour Grace, the Wabush case load wasn’t huge but it was going to impact Happy Valley-Goose Bay which does have a significant caseload,” he said. “The place is already blocked, if you get a couple of bail hearings everything’s thrown off.”
He said with those cases moving to Happy Valley-Goose Bay and the Harbour Grace cases moving to St. John’s it would potentially cause cases to take longer and potentially lead to charter rights infringements.
Graham Letto, MHA for Labrador West, said the announcement a “red letter day,” for the justice system in Labrador.
“The costs of closing the court in Wabush had to be looked at from two different perspectives,” he said. “Cost savings on one hand would have meant significant costs for individuals trying to access the justice system on the other, and it would have meant further delays in getting before a judge.”
Cost-savings, particularly in Harbour Grace, were also a reason for reversing the decision, Parsons said.
“The building out there was shot, the cost of the lease was prohibitive,” he said. “But we managed to work with the mayor and the Town and work something out that’s going to realize a lot of cost-savings.”
Parsons said the mayors of both municipalities impacted were great to work with and had a solution based approach rather than a problem based one.
“They both wanted to do what they could to make it happen,” he said. “They wanted to see how we could do it, not why it was done. They were both great to work with.”
The NDP issued a statement saying they aren’t surprised the government reversed the decision, but surprised it took this long.
“It’s just the latest example in a budget littered with badly thought out decisions,” said NDP Justice Critic Gerry Rogers. “The Liberals decided austerity would be the order of the day and slashed services in an accounting exercise looking at nothing but numbers, showing no concern for the impact of their decisions on people, services – and in the case of the courts, basic access to justice.”
In recent weeks, a number of provincial budget cuts have been reversed, changed or stayed, including the closure of over 50 rural libraries and the controversial Levy tax.
Cost savings include a $100,000 annual reduction in the cost of housing the court in Harbour Grace.
Parsons is meeting with media this afternoon to speak about the decision to keep court services in the two communities.