B.C. Attorney General Barry Penner.

Province warned sheriff cuts could hinder courts

Doubts linger over province's pledge to restore cut hours

The provincial government had advance warning from a senior official several weeks ago that cuts to the number of sheriffs guarding court houses could spark trouble in the justice system.

In a May 31 letter to B.C.’s chief justices, copied to the deputy Attorney General, Assistant Deputy Minister Rob Wood noted full-time staff levels in the court services branch had already been cut nine per cent since 2008/09.

“These fiscal changes have made it progressively more difficult to maintain operational service levels in both court security and court administration,” Wood said.

Deeper cuts took effect at the beginning of June and Wood’s letter set out minimum service levels for court registries and sheriffs, including a system of roving sheriffs to spread staff further.

Wood’s letter indicated the number of court clerks has also been cut and the ministry would respond by reassigning court registry staff to act as clerks as needed.

He cautioned those levels would not be sustainable for long.

Wood also noted it would be up to judges to gauge the security risk and decide if they can operate without a dedicated sheriff using the rover system.

“The safety of all court participants is of paramount concern,” he said.

“We will do everything we can, in consultation with the judiciary, to ensure the most important matters go forward and that the safety and security of the courts and court users is maintained.”

The elimination of the equivalent of 34 full-time deputy sheriffs caused delays in several trials last month when some judges refused to let their trials proceed without a sheriff present.

By late June, Attorney General Barry Penner – after hearing directly from judges about their security concerns – pledged to reverse the cuts to sheriffs’ hours.

But the cut hours have not been permanently restored and are only being scheduled a week at a time so far, said Dean Purdy, spokesman for the union representing sheriffs.

“We’re concerned that they’re so keyed into the budgetary side of things they’re going to let the court system slide rather than truly fund the system,” he said.

Purdy said two of the most senior managers in the system are currently filling in for sheriffs in Victoria because of the lack of deputy sheriffs.

“You can’t do justice on the cheap,” he said, adding the province needs to

hire more sheriffs to reverse some of the loss of more than 100 positions in recent years.

The NDP lashed the province for allowing “chaos” in the courts to continue and failing to find a permanent solution.

“It appears that when making this announcement, the Liberals were primarily interested in temporary damage control, not returning security to our courts so they can function again,” NDP Attorney General critic Leonard Krog said.

Penner said he doesn’t want the shortage of sheriffs to result in trial delays and added his ministry is working to find more money to support staffing levels on an ongoing basis.

He said the auxiliary and part-time sheriffs whose hours were cut had always been called out as required.

“They will be utilized as required,” Penner said. “The safety and security of our courthouses and the people in them remains our paramount objective.”

He said most government ministries remain under pressure to cut costs and streamline processes as a result of health and education spending that has risen faster than government revenues.

Just Posted

Spring break nature walks – get the kids out into nature!

Spring break, CRD Regional Parks naturalists are hosting three guided nature walks

Victoria police search for missing man, his vehicle and travel trailer

Last seen on March 17 driving white Honda Ridgeline bearing B.C. licence plate CG 4316

Red-tailed hawk’s own bill is killing him

‘Most birds with this syndrome will starve to death without treatment’

Sidney business organization cyber attacked

President’s contact list sent unsolicited messages

VIDEO: Can you believe it? This B.C. hill pulls cars backwards up a slope

Sir Isaac Newton had clearly never been to this Vernon anomaly when he discovered gravity

POLL: When do you think the next major earthquake will hit Vancouver Island?

According to seismologists, Vancouver Island is overdue for a magnitude 7 earthquake.… Continue reading

Greater Victoria Wanted List for the week of March 19

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

View Royal council to discuss proposed 3.5% tax increase tonight

Budget open house to directly precede the council meeting

Couple rescued after Sea to Sky Gondola refused ride down hill

‘We were cold as hell, my lips were blue. I cried the entire way down’

Having phone within sight while driving does not violate law: B.C. judge

The mere presence of a cell phone within sight of a driver is not enough for a conviction, judge says

B.C. man sentenced for tying up, assaulting and robbing another man at hotel

Gabriel Stephen Nelson robbed and assaulted travelling businessman in Nanaimo in 2017

B.C. girl and her toy monkey make videos to fight negativity on Facebook

Ava Ast created the Ava and Cello’s Good Deed Page last month

Deadline extended through April to nominate top B.C. educators

Second year of Premier John Horgan’s awards offers $3,000 bursary

Most Read