Strong re­ac­tion to court clo­sure

The Compass - - EDITORIAL - BY AN­DREW ROBIN­SON ed­i­tor@cb­n­com­

In a bud­get full of cuts across the board, there’s a no­table one set to im­pact the Trin­ity-Con­cep­tion-Pla­cen­tia area’s jus­tice sys­tem.

Har­bour Grace Pro­vin­cial Court is one of four courts in New­found­land and Labrador that will be shut down, a move ex­pected to save govern­ment over $800,000 in this fis­cal year and $1.3 mil­lion an­nu­ally there­after. Wabush is also los­ing its pro­vin­cial court, and supreme courts in Grand Falls-Wind­sor and Grand Bank are clos­ing as well. The court in Har­bour Grace has seven full-time staff and one part-time em­ployee.

Nick Sum­mers, pro­vin­cial di­rec­tor for the New­found­land and Labrador Le­gal Aid Com­mis­sion, said his of­fice did not have any in­side in­for­ma­tion on the court clo­sures.

“We’re as sur­prised as any­one else,” he told The Com­pass on bud­get day last Thurs­day.

Spec­u­lat­ing on what this move could en­tail, Sum­mers knows pro­vin­cial courts closed in the past have been used as cir­cuit courts where a judge would ap­pear in­ter­mit­tently to hear cases. That’s how the court­house in Pla­cen­tia is used.

“This is not based on any­thing I’ve heard, but it would be hard to see how they could run (Har­bour Grace) as a cir­cuit,” Sum­mers said, point­ing out the his­toric 19th-cen­tury court­house build­ing is not fit to use with­out sub­stan­tial in­vest­ment. Oth­er­wise, he said the prov­ince doesn’t ap­pear to own a prop­erty suitable for a cir­cuit court.

The other likely al­ter­na­tive would be to move all cases heard in Har­bour Grace to St. John’s.

“I think it’s go­ing to be ex­tremely in­con­ve­nient for ev­ery­one,” Sum­mers said when asked about that pos­si­ble out­come.

“It’s not the long­est dis­tance that they’ve re­quired peo­ple to move when they’ve closed down courts in the past. They’ve closed down quite a num­ber of courts on the south coast of New­found­land, and peo­ple have to travel a con­sid­er­able dis­tance to get to court. On the North­ern Penin­sula, peo­ple have to travel hun­dreds of miles in or­der to get to court. So it’s not be­yond the realm of pos­si­bil­ity that they’ll re­quire peo­ple to go into St. John’s to at­tend court.”

Polic­ing per­spec­tive

Ge­orge Simmons, a re­tired po­lice of­fi­cer in Bay Roberts who served as a sergeant in charge of oper­a­tions for the for­mer Trin­ity Con­cep­tion de­tach­ment, said if such a change were made dur­ing his time with the RCMP, it would have im­pacted his work con­sid­er­ably. He ex­pects the like­li­est move will be to trans­fer all mat­ters to St. John’s.

“That means ev­ery bit of cor­re­spon­dence and all the court ac­tions and all the pris­on­ers and every­thing will have to be trans­ferred, re­layed,” he said. “Mem­bers will have to spend time on the road trav­el­ing back and forth for mat­ters as sim­ple as traf­fic tick­ets … Un­less the court vol­ume has changed out here, that would in my opin­ion have a very sig­nif­i­cant im­pact.”

Simmons also noted it’s pos­si­ble changes made un­be­knownst to him within the court sys­tem and RCMP since his re­tire­ment sev­eral years ago will make such a move as this more man­age­able for po­lice of­fi­cers.

The Com­pass con­tacted lo­cal RCMP for com­ment and was told to di­rect in­quiries about the court clo­sure to the De­part­ment of Jus­tice.

A re­tired judge who re­quested not to have his name pub­lished said it is clear the prov­ince is “liv­ing be­yond its mean” and needed to make dras­tic changes. He does how­ever an­tic­i­pate this move will not be ideal for peo­ple who need to make use of the court in Har­bour Grace.

“You’re of­fer­ing ser­vices to peo­ple, what­ever it might be, and they may not nec­es­sar­ily just be for crim­i­nal things. They may be for civil mat­ters, fam­ily mat­ters. Now peo­ple are go­ing to drive an hour or an hour-and-a-half to get some­where else. So the cost will be ab­sorbed an­other way.”

The judge also felt sad about the clo­sure, given it casts some doubt over the fu­ture of the old court­house build­ing, which was the old­est pub­lic build­ing in use across New­found­land and Labrador be­fore it closed last De­cem­ber. It was built in 1830. All court mat­ters have since been moved to the ren­o­vated Babb Build­ing in Har­bour Grace, which the prov­ince is rent­ing.


Har­bour Grace Pro­vin­cial Court has oc­cu­pied the Babb Build­ing since the be­gin­ning of Jan­uary.

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