Defending our justice system
by Carman Overholt
Our Justice System has faced a number of challenges this year, including the enactment of the Proceeds of Crime legislation and the Anti-terrorism legislation by the federal government; the Administrative Justice Project and Core Services Review announced by the provincial government; and recently announced provincial cuts including closure of 24 courthouses, a 40 per cent reduction in funding of legal aid, and termination of other key programs and services.
It is our responsibility to carefully assess the impact of these challenges to our system of justice and to formulate an appropriate response. In the case of Proceeds of Crime and Anti-terrorism legislation, we have been largely successful to date. With respect to the Administrative Justice Project initiative, we are currently engaged in a process of consultation that we negotiated with the government.
In advance of the “Black Thursday” announcement of cuts to programs across government, I communicated to the Premier, the Attorney General and the people of BC, the legal profession’s grave concern about the impact of the choices being made to change access to justice in the absence of consultation with the lawyers and judiciary of BC. We know that there are difficult budget decisions to be made, and that our province cannot sustain current levels of public funding without incurring liabilities for future generations. However, we also know that decisions about how to reduce expenditures cannot be made in a vacuum, separate from the people who best know the justice system, and those most affected by it.
I asked the Attorney General to postpone the introduction of change to allow for meaningful consultation with the legal profession. Although he was not prepared to agree to postponement of the implementation of the Services Plan generally, he did agree in a meeting with the CBABC that the Ministry would engage in a dialogue with our Court Services Committee and Legal Aid Committee regarding the courthouse closures and cuts to Legal Aid.
A future challenge that we may face is in connection with ICBC. The Attorney General has assured us that there is no plan to introduce tort reform in the near future, and that he will consult with the profession in the event of such an initiative. However, it is also true that the Attorney General has been asked to participate in the ICBC Core Services Review. Changes to the nature of ICBC coverage, including raising deductibles or introducing limits, would in fact represent movement toward a no-fault insurance system. We are concerned that any such changes to insurance coverage will be at the expense of the public and will compromise fundamental rights.
Our Government Relations Committee chaired by Robert Brun, the Automobile Insurance Committee chaired by Michael Kew, and the Court Services Committee chaired by Alice Finall, all strong and dedicated CBA volunteers, will work with our Executive to ensure that we properly respond to these challenges.
I urge all of you to ensure that you are fully informed on these matters and that you take the opportunity to speak out in your own way on the importance of defending individual rights, protecting those most vulnerable in our society, and maintaining an accessible and equitable justice system. I will work with the Executive and Provincial Council of the CBA, and with all of our partners in the justice system, to ensure a strong voice on any and all threats to access to justice.
The public continues to look to us for leadership. I know that the legal profession will continue to respond in a thoughtful and principled way to all present and future challenges to our justice system.
This article was published in the February 2002 issue of BarTalk. © 2002 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.