September 28, 2016 6:07 pm

Judge shortage means some trials taking 2.5 years to be heard

A Senate committee hearing took place in Calgary Wednesday looking at delays in the justice system. No cameras were allowed during the testimony. Sept. 28, 2016.

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Court delays are reaching a critical point in Alberta and Canada a Senate committee heard from judges, lawyers and police on Wednesday.

Chief Justice Neil Wittman of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta said the lack of judicial resources is getting to a critical juncture.

“There is increasing lead time in our court,” he said.

Wittman testified as a witness at a hearing in Calgary held by the Senate committee studying delays in Canada’s criminal justice system.

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He said a lack of judicial and non-judicial staff has been a chronic problem for years.

READ MORE: Justice delayed: 3 Alberta sex assault cases rescheduled for 2017 due to judge shortage

According to Wittman, there are nine vacancies in the Court of Queen’s Bench in Alberta.

He told the senators there’s currently a 138-week lead time to get a civil trial longer than five days scheduled in an Alberta court.

READ MORE: Court doc says shortage leaves Alberta judges ‘without requisite time’ for cases

On the criminal side, trials longer than five days are taking up to 63 weeks to schedule.

Those long waits are only for trials to start.

The Supreme Court of Canada recently ruled cases can be thrown out if they’re not heard within 30 months in a Superior Court. In Provincial Court, that limit is 18 months.

READ MORE: Supreme court creates new timely-trial framework

Watch below: According to the Supreme Court of Canada, the country’s court system is moving too slowly. It has now imposed an 18-month ceiling on provincial cases. On July 8, 2016, Ted Chernecki filed this report on how that will impact B.C.

Chief Judge Terrence Matchett of the Provincial Court of Alberta told the committee a criminal trial used to take two to three weeks to schedule when he was a young lawyers. He said the delay is now five to 10 months or even longer.

Matchett said in many cases, justice delayed is justice denied but conceded there are no magic solutions to fix the problem.

“There are no silver bullets,” he said to the committee.

The senators also heard a request from child advocate Sheldon Kennedy to end preliminary hearings for child abuse cases, in part, to speed up the legal process.

The founder of the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre said the preliminary hearings only victimize abuse victims before they head to trial.

There are currently 56 superior court judge vacancies in Canada. The federal government is reviewing the appointment process of federally appointed courts.

The Senate committee has already posted an interim report.

A full report is expected by the spring of 2017.

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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