Legal Hail Mary for courthouse to be heard July 26
A group of lawyers will have their day in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court to make a case against the justice department’s decision to take provincial court services out of Harbour Grace.
Conception-Trinity-Placentia Region Access to Justice Committee Inc. formally filed its application last week to contest the decision. Carbonear-based lawyer John Babb will represent the committee July 26 in St. John’s.
Beyond the main argument the group intends to make regarding the need to uphold judicial independence and fair access to justice, an interlocutory application was filed. That seeks an interim declaration to not proceed with the courthouse closure until the underlying judicial issues have been heard.
Babb expects the July 26 court date to take a full day. Harbour Grace Provincial Court is slated to close three days later. Termination of government’s lease on the Babb Building is effective Aug. 4.
The respondents listed in the applications are the Attorney General, Justice Minister Andrew Parsons, and Provincial Court Chief Judge Pamela Goulding. The group contends Goulding should have refused to comply with government’s directive to close the courthouse “to protect the public’s right to access to justice and to preserve judicial independence.” Bay
On the access to justice issue, the group points out Harbour Grace Provincial Court serves over 57,000 residents. With the exclusion of the 2010-11 fiscal year, total initiated cases in Harbour Grace “has consistently risen since 2007.” That hasn’t been the case at provincial courts in Clarenville, Grand Falls-Windsor, Grand Bank, Gander or Wabush.
Length of travel to access court services will increase considerably for most residents impacted by the courthouse closure. People living on the tip of the Bay de Verde Peninsula will need almost two-and-a-half hours to drive to St. John’s.
“Measures that prevent people from coming to the courts to have those issues resolved are at odds with the basic judicial function,” the group states in its originating application, going on to say the closure will be particularly burdensome for impoverished people.
The judicial independence argument suggests government violated the independence of the Chief Judge through budget cuts.
“The rights of judicial independence vested in the Provincial courts and individual Judges have constitutional protection both in the form of the written constitution and unwritten constitutional principle,” the group wrote in the originating application.
Conception-Trinity-Placentia Bay Region Access to Justice Committee Inc. is comprised of several lawyers based in the area.