October 20, 2016 3:57 pm
Updated: October 20, 2016 7:36 pm

Alberta hopes to add 10 new judges and fill current vacancies on the bench

WATCH ABOVE: Help is on the way for the backlog in the Alberta justice system. Both the federal and provincial governments announced resources to deal with the crisis. Global’s Nancy Hixt reports.

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The Alberta government plans to bring the number of judges in Alberta, per capita, in line with that of other provinces.

The government will introduce legislation this fall to add 10 additional justice positions, as well as fill current vacancies on the bench, Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said Thursday.

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READ MORE: Alberta murder case thrown out over trial delays; experts warn system on verge of collapse

With those additional positions, Alberta now has 15 vacancies on the Court of Queen’s Bench and one vacancy in the Court of Appeal.

Alberta has room for 77 Court of Queen’s Bench judges and 15 judges for the Court of Appeal.

The news comes as experts say Alberta’s court system is in the midst of a worsening crisis, citing long delays and lack of judges.

READ MORE: Convicted killers in swarming death of Lukas Strasser-Hird make new bid for freedom 

The R. vs. Jordan decision is a landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling that set out a new framework for determining whether a criminal trial has been unreasonably delayed. According to the decision, an unreasonable delay would be presumed should proceedings – from the date of charge to conclusion of a trial – exceed 18 months in provincial court or 30 months in superior court.

Since the Jordan ruling was made last summer, already one first-degree murder case has been thrown out in Alberta.

READ MORE: Plan to address long court delays, judge shortage in Alberta revealed this week 

Ganley told Global News Tuesday her government understands Albertans are concerned about the current state of the court system, especially in light of news that some cases are being thrown out because they are taking too long to be heard.

The Wildrose justice critic welcomed the 10 new positions but said the news is potentially too late for hundreds of victims and their families.

“I fully welcome any and all action to create more positions in Alberta,” Scott Cyr said. “Even though this still falls short of what our province needs, any new appointments are long overdue.”

“Justice officials are scrambling to manage growing caseloads and offenders are being let off due to unreasonable delays in their trials,” Cyr said.

“This is a disastrous situation for victims and their families, and I’d like to see a greater sense of urgency from Minister Ganley who could have increased the number of positions in the time she’s served as minister.”

Cyr thanked Crown prosecutors and court workers keeping the system moving, but said they’re in difficult circumstances.

“With reports that up to 400 cases in Calgary alone, including very serious murder cases, could be thrown out, I want to know what Minister Ganley will do to ensure victims and their families receive adequate support from the justice system.”

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

Judges cannot be appointed by provincial governments; recommendations for appointments and approvals are federal decisions.

READ MORE: 24 new judges appointed, new appointment process revealed 

Meanwhile, the federal justice minister announced Thursday plans to appoint 24 new judges across the country, as well as implement a new process for selecting justices.

Jody Wilson-Raybould said the Liberals plan to focus on adding diversity to the selection process while offering better transparency.

She said 14 of the 24 new judges will be women and two have identified themselves as Indigenous.

“We are very pleased to learn that the federal government has made several new judicial appointments to the Court of Queen’s Bench and Court of Appeal in Alberta,” Ganley said. “We thank the federal Justice Minister, Jodi Wilson-Raybould, for her work on this issue. This is an example of the co-operative relationship I have built with my federal counterpart.

“These new justices are extremely important as we work to address the backlog and pressures in Alberta’s court system,” Ganley said.

“However, even with this positive step, we believe Alberta needs more justices, which is why we created 10 new positions. We look forward to continuing to work with the federal government to have these positions filled.”

It is not known how many of the 24 will be in Alberta.

With files from Reid Fiest and Nancy Hixt

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

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