Har­bour Grace loses court in bud­get

Lo­cal lawyer crit­i­cal of govern­ment, says it should re­visit de­ci­sion

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY AN­DREW ROBIN­SON BUD­GET 2016 edi­tor@cb­n­com­pass.ca

In a sur­pris­ing move, the provin­cial govern­ment an­nounced Har­bour Grace will lose its court­house in or­der to save money. It’s one of four courts set to close in New­found­land and Labrador as a re­sult of the bud­get. News of the court’s clo­sure didn’t sit well with some, as you’ll find out in a few sto­ries in this week’s pa­per.

The clo­sure of Har­bour Grace Provin­cial Court boils down to in­fra­struc­ture and fi­nan­cial con­sid­er­a­tions, ac­cord­ing to the provin­cial jus­tice min­is­ter.

“When you look at the court­house, the his­toric build­ing, and you’re look­ing at a mul­ti­mil­lion dol­lar fix, it’s just not fea­si­ble,” An­drew Par­sons told The Com­pass Fri­day, one day af­ter the re­lease of the provin­cial bud­get.

Provin­cial court staff moved out of the his­toric court­house, built in 1830, last De­cem­ber and now oc­cupy space in the Babb Build­ing in Har­bour Grace. Struc­tural is­sues with the old court­house forced govern­ment to move staff out be­fore the win­ter.

Now, Har­bour Grace Provin­cial Court is one of four courts ear­marked for clo­sure, a move that will save the prov­ince $1.3 mil­lion an­nu­ally start­ing in the next fis­cal year. Ren­o­va­tions at the Babb Build­ing prior to moving in cost the prov­ince $48,000, and the an­nual lease on the prop­erty is ap­prox­i­mately $280,000. Par­sons cited sig­nif­i­cant lease costs as an­other fac­tor in govern­ment’s de­ci­sion.

The min­is­ter said the de­ci­sion wasn’t an easy one to make. A lawyer him­self, Par­sons has wit­nessed the clo­sure of court- houses in his home district of Bur­geo-La Poile.

“It’s not some­thing I ever wanted to be as­so­ci­ated with, which is clos­ing court­houses, so it was ex­tremely dif­fi­cult.”

Par­sons reck­ons the changeover to move court­room pro­ceed­ings out of Har­bour Grace won’t hap­pen un­til Au­gust at the ear­li­est. No de­ci­sion has been made yet on how ex­actly cases will be han­dled once that move takes place, though the es­tab­lish­ment of a cir­cuit court like the one in Pla­cen­tia is on the ta­ble.

With Har­bour Grace just over an hour’s drive from St. John’s, it seems in­evitable govern­ment will look at the op­tion of moving cases there.

“There’s still work that has to be done with our courts, our ju­di­ciary court ad­min­is­tra­tors, be­cause I re­al­ize that this is a sig­nif­i­cant change from what peo­ple are used to,” said the jus­tice min­is­ter. “The fact is they’re still talk­ing about the pos­si­bil­ity in some places of cir­cuits. That’s one thing that’s be­ing dis­cussed with all courts … There’s more work to be done, ob­vi­ously, but we’re work­ing with the peo­ple in­volved to fig­ure out the best and per­haps the best way to put it, the least dis­rup­tive way to move for­ward.”

Lawyer doesn’t like it

De­fence lawyer Doug Moores has been prac­tic­ing law in Con­cep­tion Bay North for over 40 years and has han­dled lots of cases in Har­bour Grace. He ad­mits the old court­house build­ing out­lived its use­ful­ness quite some time ago, but he can­not fathom los­ing Har­bour Grace Provin­cial Court en­tirely.

“It’s ret­ro­gres­sive as far as I’m con­cerned,” Moores said.

Main­tain­ing a reg­u­lar pres­ence at provin­cial court, Moores knows all too well how busy it is in Har­bour Grace. For the Har­bour Grace and Bay Roberts RCMP, he said it will prove in­con­ve­nient not to have the court­house in Har­bour Grace. Prison­ers in cus­tody are held at the Har­bour Grace de­tach­ment.

“It’s very con­ve­nient for the po­lice … to come to the court­house in Har­bour Grace, do their business and go back to work.”

For what­ever amount of money the prov­ince might save with this move, Moores said it will prove too costly for the true ad­min­is­tra­tion of jus­tice and the pub­lic at large. If cases are moved to St. John’s, this will in­con­ve­nience wit­nesses, de­fen­dants, and all man­ner of peo­ple who make use of the court’s ser­vices. Moores noted the Har­bour Grace court serves a large geo­graphic area.

“I think it’s ill-con­ceived and ill-thought-out, and I’d ask the min­is­ter of jus­tice to go back if he can to go over what they’re do­ing here and see if we can save this,” said Moores.

Par­sons said he un­der­stands the move will not be pop­u­lar with the com­mu­ni­ties im­pacted by the clo­sure and knows it will place a strain on peo­ple who make use of court­house ser­vices.

“It’s a nec­es­sary, dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion, and it’s one of a lot that were made (in the bud­get).”

He also ex­pressed con­cern for staff im­pacted by the move. The court­house in Har­bour has seven full-time staff and one part-time em­ployee.

“When you’re deal­ing with peo­ple and their jobs, it’s ex­tremely dif­fi­cult. That’s why none of this is taken lightly … It’s tough on me, so I can only imag­ine how tough it is on these in­di­vid­u­als.”

COM­PASS FILE PHOTO

The 186-year-old court­house build­ing in Har­bour Grace ap­par­ently re­quires mil­lions of dol­lars in re­pairs. That fact played a role in govern­ment’s de­ci­sion to close Har­bour Grace Provin­cial Court in last week’s bud­get.

Par­sons

Moores

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