N.B. prosecutors say recent sexual assault stay is evidence of resource shortage

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick Crown lawyer says justice system reaching crisis point in province'
New Brunswick Crown lawyer says justice system reaching crisis point in province
WATCH: New Brunswick’s justice system is reaching a crisis point. This is according to a Crown prosecutor who says a lack of resources led to the stay of a sexual assault case. Robert Lothian reports. – Mar 1, 2023

Urgent calls have been made to address the provincial criminal justice system after a decision was made to stay a sexual assault case due to the lack of prosecutors.

According to the New Brunswick Crown Prosecutors Association, the judge’s decision, made in Moncton last Friday, is directly linked to the shortage of resources.

“As prosecutors, that’s sort of worst-case scenario for us,” said Shara Munn, president of the New Brunswick Crown Prosecutors Association.

“What we do isn’t about wins and losses, what it is about is seeking justice.”

The association has repeatedly asked the provincial government for aid, said Munn, as members began to reach “crisis points.”

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She said it’s “unfortunate” a file as important as sexual assault resulted in a stay.

As the system continues to grapple with low salaries relative to the law system, and a heavy workload, the association has warned there’s “potential” for more files to be stayed.


According to Munn, figures crunched indicate, to address the workload, they need an additional 40 prosecutors on the criminal side, and 10 family Crown counsel.

A request for an interview with New Brunswick Attorney General Hugh J.A. (Ted) Flemming was not granted to Global News.

“In New Brunswick, court decisions to stay a charge because of an unreasonable pre-trial delay are very exceptional,” a statement from Flemming reads.

“Public Prosecutions Services reviews every file that is stayed for delay, to ensure lessons are learned and the risk is reduced going forward.”

Set by the Supreme Court of Canada, the presumptive ceiling for a case in a provincial court is 18 months.

Munn noted this mark is meant to be a maximum, not something to be strived for.

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“If you’re a victim and you’re waiting 18 months to have a matter heard and concluded, that’s 18 months where you can’t move on, you can’t maybe get the help you need, you can’t seek closure,” she said.

System underfunded, says prof

Nicole O’Byrne, an associate professor with the Faculty of Law at the University of New Brunswick, said there has been a chronic underfunding of the criminal justice system for decades.

Only now, the “chickens have come home to roost,” in part due to retirements and increases in tuition.

“Well, a lot of it boils down to money, you need to pay people fair wages, you need to have enough positions, you can’t hold back on judicial appointments for budgetary reasons,” O’Byrne told Global News Wednesday.

Perhaps the most substantial area in need of a cash infusion, according to O’Byrne, is the legal aid system.

“Legal aid funding has not kept up, so there is a shortage of Crown prosecutors, but their job is made more difficult when you have people who are charged with an offence who don’t have access to legal counsel, so they self-represent,” she stated.

“That drags things on, takes up more times, and the Crown prosecutors have to do even more heavy-lifting to make sure that the person on the opposing sides constitutional rights are respected.”

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As for Munn, with a provincial budget expected in the coming weeks, she hopes government will commit funds to help the system from slipping further into crisis.

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