Legal action forthcoming on Harbour Grace court closure
A group of lawyers practicing in the Trinity-Conception-Placentia area is considering legal action as a means to prevent government from eliminating courthouse services in Harbour Grace.
Conception-Trinity-Placentia Bay Region Access to Justice Committee Inc. is comprised of six lawyers from the area. Its name closely resembles that of the Burin Peninsula-ClarenvilleBonavista Peninsula Access to Justice Committee Inc. That group filed an application in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador disputing the legality of government decision to close Supreme Court in Grand Bank.
Veteran Carbonear defence lawyer John Babb, who is also a former regional Crown attorney, said his group is preparing to take similar steps to prevent Harbour Grace Provincial Court from closing.
“It’s imminent. Unless there’s a change, it’s going to be imminent,” Babb, one of four committee directors, told The Compass regarding the possibility of legal action.
The group’s objections centre in on the process used to make the decision to close, fair access to justice and judiciary independence.
“It’s a case where those types of decisions should be made by an independent entity,” said Babb, who contends the justice minister’s power through the budget to close courthouses amounts to encroachment on judicial independence.
The access to justice issue ties into the increased cost the general public will be burdened with when trying to make use of the system. Babb expects moving cases to St. John’s will place a strain on all parties who work in the court system, including lawyers, police officers and social workers.
“It’s just a denial of reasonable access to justice, given the distances and time and expense and everything that they have to travel.”
Last month, government announced Supreme Court in Grand Bank and Grand Falls-Windsor would remain open, as a proposal from Supreme Court identified ways to save $74,000 annually.
The courthouse in Harbour Grace is scheduled to close by the end of July, and courthouse staff received layoff notices last Wednesday.
According to Babb, the group fighting the Grand Bank courthouse closure dropped their access to justice argument after the decision to close was reversed, though they are still pursuing the judicial independence matter in court.
The presence of a courthouse in Harbour Grace dates back to 1807. The historic courthouse, built in 1830, was the oldest public building in use prior to government deciding to move services to the Babb Building in Harbour Grace at the start of 2016 due to structural concerns.
Proposals to keep the courthouse open while finding others ways to save money were presented, but government rejected them.