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