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NOTES FOR AN ADDRESS
BY
Thomas W. Marshall, QC
MINISTER OF JUSTICE AND ATTORNEY GENERAL
 

NEWFOUNDLAND & LABRADOR BRANCH 
OF THE CANADIAN BAR ASSOCIATION
November 24, 2004

ST. JOHN'S, NL


Thank you for your introduction.

It is a pleasure to have this opportunity to speak to you this afternoon to discuss some current issues and initiatives of the Department of Justice. The Canadian Bar Association and you as members play an important role in addressing justice issues provincially, as well as nationally.  We all have a responsibility to ensure the legal system and legal community operates in an fair and efficient manner, while providing access to all citizens. 

As you are aware, we have recently celebrated our first anniversary as Government.  I feel strongly that we are headed in a positive direction. We have made real progress and experienced some significant accomplishments in a number of areas. 

Our constitutional responsibility for the administration of Justice in the Province requires that we be forward looking and that, where necessary and appropriate, we find new and innovative ways to improve all aspects of the justice system, including the court system, in order to meet continuing challenges. I believe we can do this.  Indeed we must.  I believe that working together in a collaborative fashion, despite present challenges, we can ensure that our court system continues to respond to public needs. Fiscal reality requires that we make the most of the resources we have. Clearly, we need to find ways to move forward. To this end, I am pleased to be able to discuss a number of initiatives which I think will allow us to achieve this. 

We have established a Courts Administration Advisory Board to commence a collaborative process of strategic planning for the Courts. The Advisory Board will provide an opportunity to work together to ensure that the justice system is effective, efficient and accessible.  Members of the advisory board include the Chief Justice Clyde Wells; Chief Justice Derek Green; Chief Judge M.R. Reid; Deputy Minister of Justice John Cummings and Assistant Deputy Minister Chris Curran. As Minister of Justice & Attorney General, I am also a member of the advisory board. The advisory board is not a decision-making body, but will provide a forum for discussion, exchange of information and planning. Engaging in a cooperative review of the provinceís court system will provide opportunity to find new and innovative ways to utilize resources and improve efficiencies. The approach to establishing a court advisory board is similar to a Manitoba model which has shown great success in enhanced communication between the courts and government. 

I believe that the Court Advisory Board can work here, and can help prioritize the needs of the courts.  It is clear that reform cannot be a unilateral endeavour. It requires cooperation between the judiciary and government.  I am committed to a collaborative process. We are willing to work with the courts to change, if necessary, and to update and modernize the way the courts are administered. 

Where new ways of doing business are identified we should not be afraid to pursue them.  My hope is that this review will expedite the process of bringing forward recommendations that will support the development and implementation of needed improvements. A review of this kind could yield significant improvements in the quality of services provided to both court users and judges. 

Other Provinces have already taken steps in this direction which have resulted in the simplification of  things for practitioners, court staff  and for judges. For example, in New Brunswick, initiatives on the training side have resulted in the more effective utilization of staff resources, thus promoting efficiency and encouraging job rotation and cross-training. The Federal Government has also taken important steps in this direction. Most recently, it amalgamated the registries of the Tax Court of Canada with those of the Federal Court. This was done after a review by the Auditor General. This consolidation has promoted effective and efficient court services, enhanced judicial independence and increased accountability for the use of public funds. The time has now come for this Province to review its system to determine how it can achieve similar goals. 

The Province needs to look at harnessing technology to improve the operation of the court system.  Electronic filing of court documents is one such initiative that should be explored.  Video conferencing is another. I know that Chief Justice Green shares my view that many less complex court matters could be expedited using this technology.  Video conferencing has been introduced at the Provincial Court in Happy-Valley Goose Bay this year, and has yielded positive response and results. Video conferencing improves cost effectiveness by reducing or avoiding movement of detained persons and witness appearances can occur at reduced cost and with greater certainty, particularly in remote areas like coastal Labrador communities where weather conditions significantly impact scheduled circuits. Further, related costs associated with appearances by police officers who have been transferred out of their northern postings could be significantly reduced through use of  video conference at much less expense and much less related time away from their new posting location.  

The Court's long term capital infrastructure needs should also be identified.   There has been much discussion recently of the need for new courthouses for Corner Brook, St. John's and for Clarenville. The fact that financial resources are limited at present should not prevent us from defining future needs.  It is for this reason that with Chief Justice Wells, Chief Justice Greene, and Chief Judge Reid, I have constituted court facilities committees for St. Johnís, Corner Brook and Clarenville to begin planning new facilities for these communities. While government has not been able to commit money at this stage, I believe that we should nevertheless commence the planning process.  These committees will carryout their work using commonly accepted courthouse planning principles, and will emphasize the importance to the community of the symbolism of courthouse design, opportunities for sharing resources between courts, and the important role of technology. And of course we are not without some current successes.  I am pleased to be able to say that the beautiful new Supreme Court facility for Labrador in Happy-Valley Goose Bay is now open.  This is a major achievement in the present environment. 

The Province's current fiscal plight forces government to make difficult choices in the allocation of scarce resources. Despite the shortage of resources I am happy to be able to report to you today that some significant progress has been made on a number of fronts over the course of the last year in the department and in the administration of justice generally in the Province.  I am pleased to be able to point to significant progress is many areas: policing, corrections and probation, family law and support enforcement to name but a few.  

The issue of police resources has been a central issue across the province. Many communities across the province are looking for an increased police presence. We remain committed to enhancing public safety, and have taken steps to help address workload pressures, and the challenging policing environment.  We have been working with police organizations and communities to identify needs and are making progress in adding much needed resources throughout the province. This year we have provided funding for new vehicles, equipment and training for the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, as well as support for improvements in the RCMP radio telecommunications system. This Fall, a police officers training program began at Memorial University, which will introduce 75 new police officers to the RNC over the next three years. To address policing concerns in Labrador, four new officers were introduced to the communities of Sheshatshiu, Rigelot, and Makkovik, and we recently expanded the policing presence in Labrador by committing to seven additional RCMP officers who will be in place by January 2005. We remain committed to the development of a long-term policing strategy, and providing police officers with improved tools to protect and enforce the safety of communities and citizens across the province. 

This past year, I have met with Anne McLellan, Deputy Prime Minister of Canada and Minister of Public Safety to discuss initiatives relating to aboriginal peoples and with my federal counterpart, the Honourable Irwin Cotler, to discuss other issues of shared federal-provincial responsibility: including, legal aid and an expanded unified family court system for the Province.  These are complex matters and I believe that in all three areas a solid and positive foundation for future federal-provincial initiatives has been laid.

As you may know, the relationship of aboriginal peoples to the justice system is of particular concern to the Province and we have made considerable efforts to enhance the responsiveness of the justice system to the particular needs and interests of our aboriginal population.  The province currently partners with Justice Canada to deliver a number of cost-shared programs to our aboriginal population, including, for example, our participation in the Native Court Worker Program and the Aboriginal Justice Strategy.  We are also involved in ongoing land claims negotiations with the Innu and in limited self-government discussions with the Micmac of Conne River.  However, our ability to fully address aboriginal issues is limited by the particular economic circumstances of the Province and by the constitutional division of powers.  It is clear that an effective, strategic response requires the fiscal and policy involvement of the Federal Government, if for no other reason than their constitutional obligations under section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867.  This is a view which I shared with both my Federal colleagues and they both expressed a willingness to explore new ways, and in some cases to reinvigorate old mechanisms, to find solutions to some of the outstanding problems.

          My discussions with Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan as to the possibility of this province concluding an agreement under the First Nations Policing Policy is a case in point.  Regrettably, there have not been any concluded tripartite aboriginal policing agreements over the last several years.

One of the results of this has been significantly reduced federal funding for policing in this province: it is little known that currently the provincial government pays 70 % of the cost of the RCMP policing in the province while the Federal Government pays only 30%. Compare this with 52% federal government and 48 % provincial government for agreements under the First Nations Policing Policy. The resultant savings, if an agreement could be realized, would allow us to undertake, among other things,  significant new initiatives for both the Inuit and the Innu in Labrador.  I am pleased to be able to report that Minister McLennan indicated a willingness enter into a Tripartite Agreement and that this has resulted in positive momentum towards the possible conclusion of the Provinces first such agreement. 

At the meeting with Minister Cotler, we discussed possible new initiatives in the area of Legal Aid and expansion of the Province's Unified Family Court system.  With regards to Legal Aid we stressed the necessity of sustaining funding for new initiatives, and to provide meaningful access to the Courts to, those who suffer from mental illness.  We also encouraged the Minister to explore new ways of providing funding for civil legal aid.  The existing arrangement, which sees funds allocated to civil legal aid come to the Provinces through the CST Transfer Fund, is simply not working.  It needs to be replaced by a separate sharing arrangement, like the one for criminal legal aid, and of course the federal cost share should at least match that of the province.  Currently, the Province contributes 61% to the cost of Legal Aid in this Province while the Federal government contributes only 39%.  This is a startling reversal of the original arrangement which saw the federal Government contribute 90% and the Province 10%. This federal reduction in funding is completely unacceptable, causes hardship on impecunious litigants, and impedes access to the Courts A small but immediate result of the visit was the reinstatement of funding for the Family Justice Services Project in Central Newfoundland which the Feds had previously cancelled.

Federal financial support announced this year has helped address unmet legal aid needs through new and innovative programming. Initiatives included: an Aboriginal Justice Program in Happy Valley-Goose Bay which will study and develop improved access to legal services by Aboriginal persons, particularly those living in remote and rural communities and help to address the legal aid needs of Aboriginal persons within the context of their unique history, culture and language. A Mental Health Project which will study, analyze and experiment with various models to determine an effective process to assist people with mental health problems, both in the early stages of the criminal justice system, at court and at release.  As well, Bilingual Project to assist with trials in French language, and improve legal services to French-speaking citizens and visitors.  This funding supports our strategy to provide fair access to legal services throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, but is only a start. Expanding current services will provide greater access to legal aid across the province. This is something that we must continue to explore.

With regard to the proposed Unified Family Court expansion,   we indicated to the federal Minister that we are anxious to participate in this initiative, assuming adequate federal funding.  We explained to the federal Minister that the provision of family law services in Newfoundland and Labrador is currently not uniform across the province.  Indeed it has been described as a patchwork quilt@.  The ideal situation would be to have judges who are specialists in family law working together with professional staff in an environment that is non-threatening to litigants and secure to all participants across the Province.   This is the objective I want to reach and I believe it is attainable through cooperative efforts with the Federal Government.  I cannot say more than this at present but more information on this initiative should be available in the near future.          

The Fall session of the House of Assembly opened this week, and the department along with Government have a number of important legislative matters during the Fall session. First of all, Lobbyists Registration will be introduced which will raise the bar for open and accountable government, and help clarify what is appropriate conduct for lobbyists as they bring information forward to government. Citizens can and should have input into the public decision-making process, to make better, stronger public policy. There are also a number of legislative amendments which will include: amendments to the Law Society Act which will bring the provincial Law Society more in-line with other Canadian jurisdictions. Amendments will provide for professional incorporation, rules to be made by benchers governing the admission of students and the enrolment of members, and respecting the disposition of unclaimed trust money. The Human Rights Code will also be amended to exclude Innu and Inuit benefits agreements from the application of the Code. The Province, Canada and Labrador Inuit Association have concluded the negotiation of a comprehensive land claim and self-government agreement with the Inuit of Labrador (the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada) which is now undergoing ratification by the provincial and federal governments.  This agreement will allow greater Inuit participation in and control over the administration of justice in, and the delivery of justice services to, the coastal communities of Labrador, thus ensuring greater cultural sensitivity and responsiveness to the specific needs of the Inuit. 

Conclusion

As I have indicated, this government is committed to working cooperatively to improve operational issues. We are cognizant that there is much to be done. We have made progress, and will continue to make improvements that will enhance efficiency, accountability and judicial independence. 

 I know I can count on the support of the Canadian Bar Association as a collaborative partner as we move forward with this important work.

Thank you. 

 


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