Chief judge says court changes pose serious challenges
Harbour Grace cases likely moving to St. John’s or Clarenville
The province’s top judge admits it won’t be easy ironing out all the changes linked to four planned courthouse closures.
“These are very challenging times for the administration of justice,” Chief Judge Pam Goulding said.
“We’re trying to deliver a service to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, and these are very difficult circumstances under which to do it.”
In what was one of several announcements made in the provincial Liberal government’s budget, it was revealed four court centres will close - Harbour Grace and Wabush provincial courts, along with Newfoundland Supreme Courts in Grand Bank and Grand FallsWindsor.
The move is expected to save the government more than $800,000 this fiscal year and $1.3 million annually thereafter.
The news of the Harbour Grace closure was a particular shock, considering that 1,362 cases were called there in the 2014-15 fiscal year, according to court statistics. That made it the third-busiest provincial court in the province.
Goulding opted not to comment on the cuts. Instead, she is focusing on how best to figure out the details and how to handle the impact of the extra caseload that will be transferred from Harbour Grace.
It will take months to come to decisions about said.
Goulding said Wabush will be serviced from Happy ValleyGoose Bay, but it’s yet to be determined how that will happen.
She said the courts will avail of technology - in particular, videolinks - as much as possible.
She said people in Harbour Grace will likely have to come to either St. John’s or Clarenville.
“It will require a lot of restructuring for our court system in this region,” said Goulding, who has to make recommendations to the justice minister about matters affecting the general administration and operation of the court.
“No plan has been put that, she in place as to how the cases in Harbour Grace will be heard. It will be a tremendous challenge for us.”
She expects there will be several meetings with court administrators and government officials in the coming months.
A spokesman for the department, Luke Joyce, said “the decisions to close court locations was not taken lightly.”
Joyce said there is capacity at other provincial court locations, including Clarenville and St. John’s, to handle the extra caseload.
As well, he said, there may be a circuit court in the community, “a decision that will be made only after consulting with the judiciary.”
Pam Goulding is the chief judge for provincial courts in Newfoundland and Labrador.