Bar as­so­ci­a­tion weighs in on court­house; MHA Parsons ad­vo­cates to save it

The Compass - - SPORTS - HOCKEY BY AN­DREW ROBIN­SON edi­tor@cb­n­com­pass.ca

The pro­vin­cial branch of the Cana­dian Bar As­so­ci­a­tion (CBA) is speak­ing out against the clo­sure of Har­bour Grace Pro­vin­cial Court and three other courts in New­found­land and Labrador.

In a news re­lease last week, CBA – New­found­land and Labrador Branch asks the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment to re­con­sider the clo­sures, which were first an­nounced last month in the bud­get.

“In a prov­ince such as ours, with a large ru­ral pop­u­la­tion, ac­cess to jus­tice de­pends on the main­te­nance of court­houses out­side of solely the larger ur­ban cen­tres,” said Steve Scru­ton, pres­i­dent of the NL branch. “Clo­sure of such courts works to un­der­mine ac­cess to jus­tice for res­i­dents of this prov­ince, and in par­tic­u­lar the most vul­ner­a­ble and im­pov­er­ished res­i­dents, whose cir­cum­stances limit or pre­vent them from trav­el­ling long dis­tances to at­tend court, or from pay­ing their lawyers to do so on their be­half.”

With all four courts serv­ing large ar­eas, CBA-NL ar­gues the clo­sure will lead to in­creased travel for lawyers and clients. This will in­crease ex­penses all around, it said.

“Res­i­dents of our prov­ince al­ready face chal­lenges in ac­cess­ing jus­tice in a timely and ef­fi­cient man­ner and the planned court clo­sures will only worsen the prob­lem,” said Scru­ton. “Be­yond the di­rect im­pacts to af­fected ar­eas, there will also be neg­a­tive im­pacts on the Court cen­tres ex­pected to take over the cases from the courts to be closed. Many of those ju­di­cial cen­tres are al­ready very busy, and the in­creased caseload will al­most cer­tainly re­sult in fur­ther de­lays.”

CBA-NL also ques­tions the pro­jected sav­ings for gov­ern­ment linked to the clo­sures, which the prov­ince es­ti­mates at $1.3 mil­lion an­nu­ally start­ing next year. It said in­creased cost of travel for gov­ern­ment lawyers, po­lice of­fi­cers and oth­ers will eat into those sav­ings.

MHA Parsons works to save court

Mean­while, Har­bour Grace-Port de Grave dis­trict MHA Pam Parsons has heard from a lot of con­stituents and mu­nic­i­pal lead­ers in her dis­trict about plans to close the Har­bour Grace court­house, and she un­der­stands their con­cerns.

“The facts are there,” she told The Com­pass last week. “We have thou­sands of peo­ple in this re­gion who come through those doors at the court­house lo­cated in Har­bour Grace an­nu­ally.”

Ac­cord­ing to Parsons, the court­house serves a pop­u­la­tion of ap­prox­i­mately 50,000. That area en­com­passes com­mu­ni­ties rep­re­sented by her­self and a few of Parsons’ Lib­eral col­leagues in the House of Assem­bly.

As of 2013-14, it was the third-busiest court in the prov­ince, han­dling a caseload of 1,776 that year. Over the pre­vi­ous 10 years, the an­nual caseload for Har­bour Grace in­creased steadily.

Pam Parsons has met with Jus­tice Min­is­ter An­drew Parsons mul­ti­ple times to dis­cuss the is­sue. The lo­cal MHA would not com­ment di­rectly on how she would char­ac­ter­ize those con­ver­sa­tions with the min­is­ter, though she re­it­er­ated her com­mit­ment to rep­re­sent the con­stituents and voice their con­cerns.

A pe­ti­tion pre­sented to Pam Parsons call­ing on gov­ern­ment to re­verse the court­house clo­sure de­ci­sion was in­tro­duced by the MHA in the House of Assem­bly May 12. She said the pe­ti­tion has more than 1,000 sig­na­tures at­tached to it.

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