For the second time in recent weeks, the Chief Justice of British Columbia has broken with protocol by going to the media with some pointed commentary. This time Mr. Justice Hinkson went public with remarks targeted the chronic short staffing of the judicial roster of the BC Supreme Court, and taking pretty direct aim at the federal Attorney General Judy Wilson-Raybould.
The problem he identified is that the Supreme Court bench is chronically at least 10% below full strength, without allowing for any increase in the overall number of judges to account for increased population growth and the ever-growing length of trials. It is the federal government and not the province which determines how many judges each province can have and who will sit as a Supreme Court judge, and for some reason the Feds are dragging their feet. We are at least nine judges short, and could really that many again by way of additional appointments
We applaud the Chief for publicly taking up the cudgels on this important issue. It is difficult to explain to anyone who hasn’t experienced it the soul destroying experience of being bumped from the list on the morning of trial, after several years of work and anticipation, culminating in several weeks of intense preparation; researching, rehearsing, second-guessing, coaching witnesses and babysitting anxious clients, simply because there is no judge available to hear your case.
Emotionally, the feeling is akin to being hit hard in the solar plexus, and trying to explain the derailment to the client is about as difficult as bearing the news of a death in the family. Any self-funded litigant is likely teetering on the razor edge of bankruptcy by the time the morning of trial comes around, so to be told they will have to wait another 18 months or so, and fund another round of expensive trial preparation, is devastating.
People’s lives are on hold awaiting their day in court. Issues have to be intensely important to the parties involved otherwise they would never make it onto the trial list. The Supreme Court deals with matters such as custody of children, as well as large damage awards and frequently, important matters of public policy.
It was one such public policy case that prompted the Chief’s other recent departure from protocol, when he felt compelled to write a letter to the editor in defense of Mr. Justice Steeves, the judge presently presiding over the marathon private healthcare case championed by Dr. Day. The chief justice was incensed at the intemperate remarks made by Vancouver Sun reporter Ian Mulgrew who has been a savage critic of the length of time the trial has taken, and the procedural paths it has meandered down.
It was wrong of Mr Mulgrew to personally attack Mr Justice Steeves, and he deserved the rebuke from the Chief, but he is correct that the private healthcare case highlights many of the problems inherent in the creaking procedures we employ in the courts, and the generally glacial pace of litigation. Unless we are prepared to change, and run our courts more efficiently , the Feds had better get busy appointing more judges!