Look it is bad enough that the minister of justice shut down the historic Harbour Grace Courthouse after 150 years of work. It’s bad enough that the new digs are a lease and a grossly expensive one at that at $350,000 per annum. With that cash flow they could have spruced up the old stone building no problem. None of this is acceptable of course, but to make it much, much worse, the current court is overbooked and understaffed. Bruce Short is the presiding judge. He is known for going on the record explaining to litigants why their matters have been bound over for long periods. It is the good judge’s practice to give someone a trial date ahead six months or more and to schedule another trial right into that exact same time slot. The logic behind such a method is that many trials go away when the parties settle and so there will be time to hear the surviving matter. Also that keeping the matter down to within two years gives cursory importance to ‘Jordan’, the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision that orders courts and parties to get things done in that time no matter what. In other words, the overburdened court system must fit the cases inside two years or the cases will be dismissed. For that reason judges like Short are essentially trying to fit twenty pounds of stuff into a ten pound bag.
The new place is hardly a deal. There is one small office to see clients, another for victims and there is no place to put people who are in custody. The place is busy and it plainly needs more resources. One time I recall that there were three accused persons in the dock at the same time. I looked around and the police and guards had momentarily left the room and the only thing keeping the prisoners in check was, the prisoners themselves. They behaved perfectly until the guards came back. Good of them when you think about it. I was the only one there and all I could have done is open the door for them.
There should also be another judge and one more prosecutor. There is unused room to put them. Harbour Grace Court is always busy, and the RCMP are always bringing people back and forth to give evidence, to act as sureties and to help the parties.
And for all the money wasted on this politicized farce, there is only one court room. That is, even as the ample space is plainly visible out in the foyer for the bemused public to see. The extra space is currently unused and capturing dust. It is even cordoned off so lawyers and accused won’t be so foolish as to try and talk in private there. As it was in the old building preceding it, the best place for an important chat is out doors while you grab a smoke. There was a second court in the old building, downstairs where the jail cells used to be. There was an office for a full time crown attorney and a feel of an important history to the place.
No more. This uninspiring, overpriced, under serviced and apparently ignored box of a building flaunts is a waste of taxpayers’ money each working day, and the judge complains in public view but nobody acts as though they have heard anything.
It used o be a well-known maxim that justice delayed is justice denied. Double booking is no fit answer as a rule and people deserve more from the courts than ‘we’ll get around to you eventually.’ As an officer of the court I am supposed to defend the court in public. However I also have a duty to clients and when a man or women finds that an issue that is important to their lives has been sent into the twilight zone I am hard pressed at best to explain it away. It was only a short time ago that the government was going to shut down all court operations in Harbour Grace. Local lawyers and others