Building Public Confidence in the Justice System
by The Honourable Wally Oppal
Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Multiculturalism
Thank you for this opportunity to contribute to your publication.
With my move from the judiciary into the world of politics, the media is often asking me questions like: what are your priorities? What legacy will you leave behind when your time as Attorney General is done? My main goal – and it’s one I will be asking for your help to achieve – is to build public confidence in the justice system. Members of the legal profession know that our courts in B.C. enjoy a reputation of excellence at every level.
However, there is a growing divide between this reality and the public’s perception. More and more people are so distrustful of the system that they are simply not reporting crimes anymore. And that is a serious problem in our society. All of our personal and business relationships, our whole system of democracy, is based on the foundation of a fair and accessible justice system, one that people believe in and trust.
To help build this public confidence, the justice system needs to become more publicly accessible. We need to take action to put reasonable limits on trials that have become excessively long. Lengthy trials not only undercut the public’s confidence in the justice system, they are also a drain on time, money and resources. Of course, such reforms will always be balanced by the need to protect and respect Charter rights.
We will be considering solutions to this challenge, including options such as imposing a reasonable time on cross-examination. We are already moving to refine discovery and pre-trial case meetings to see if there are facts or specifics on which both sides can agree, before a trial begins.
Enhancing public confidence also means expanding the public perception of how the system works. We need to be letting people know what we do and how we do it. We need to demonstrate that the system is an extension of the public’s values, not something foreign to them. Over the next few months, we will be engaging in renewed effort to educate the public about the justice system that is here to serve them, to help make our streets safer and our quality of life the best in Canada.
As your Attorney General, I will be working hard to promote a broader and more successful understanding of the justice system. Ours is a vast province. Many communities are far flung from Vancouver or Victoria. Each and every one of them deserves the best possible justice system. I look forward to working together with all of you to build the public’s confidence in the administration of justice in British Columbia through both education and reform.
Comments or questions may be e-mailed to the Attorney General by going to the following Internet address: www.ag.gov.bc.ca/contacts/emailag.htm
This article was published in the October 2005 issue of BarTalk. © 2005 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.