Judge vents on state of courthouse
Judge Bruce Short feels disrespected, Justice Minister willing to talk
Provincial Court Judge Bruce Short spoke at length last week about inadequate resources to deliver justice at the Harbour Grace courthouse. Provincial Justice Minister Andrew Parsons says he’s always willing to talk, though he reckons some internal discussions need to occur within the administrative offices for the Provincial Court of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Judge Bruce Short has voiced his concerns as of late about the state of the provincial courthouse in Harbour Grace.
A court decision was made for an application to move Daniel Leonard and Allan Potter’s preliminary inquiry for first-degree murder to St. John’s on Wednesday, March 8. The decision itself, which was to deny the application, took only a few minutes. However, Short spent about an hour before making this decision to explain to those in the courtroom what exactly the courthouse was up against, and why it was becoming such a problem.
The courthouse, as of right now, has only one courtroom, and one fulltime judge. This is not unlike other courts in the province, but Short says it is not enough to deal with the number of cases the courthouse has in the run of a week.
Short said on Wednesday that through the door at the back of the current courtroom is an empty room about the same size. He believes that, given the proper materials, it would only take about two weeks to build that room into a second courtroom.
A lack of holding cells was also a major concern for Short. He said the fact that prisoners have to be driven back and forth for court appearances is not only expensive, it becomes a risk.
Short brought up the fact that some days, the accused box has up to five people sitting in it at a time, all waiting in the courtroom when they could be waiting in cells, which would reduce danger, as well as avoid the need for so many police officers to be standing by in the courtroom. He recalled a specific instance when two people who were known to be aggressive toward one another had to be seated alongside each other in the courtroom due to a lack of anywhere else for them to wait.
Justice and Public Safety Minister Andrew Parsons says the issues the courthouse is facing are things that should be dealt with through the court administration.
“There seems to be some sort of disconnect there that certainly needs to be addressed,” said Parsons. “I’m always willing to talk. I have no issues with sitting down and discussing this with Short or anyone else, but there are apparently some other conversations that should happen internally before that happens.”
Despite Short’s concerns, he says there has been a complete lack of communication between him and the court administration. He says he feels disrespected and chastised by the administration, and that the judge that preceded him was treated in a similar fashion.
Short says that if you were to add the amount of pending cases that the courts in Clarenville, Grand Bank, and Wabush have, you would still not reach the number of pending cases for Harbour Grace. With only one courtroom and one judge, this leads to the courthouse being dangerously over-scheduled. Short noted a particular example being Troy Dobbin, who was charged with extortion and robbery in September of 2016. Dobbin’s trial was recently set to De- cember of 2017 – 15 months after his initial charges were laid.
According to last year’s R vs. Jordan ruling, the accused can request to have their charges stayed if 18 months pass after the charges were laid.
Minister Parsons also mentioned that even if a second courtroom were to be built, he would not be appointing a second judge.
“I completely agree with the minister of justice — there is no need to appoint a second judge,” said Short.
Judge Short then brought up Paul Noble, the judge in the provincial courthouse in Clarenville, who often works in St. John’s when needed.
“If the judge in Clarenville can routinely be helping out in St. John’s, then Clarenville doesn’t need a judge to be sitting full-time,” said Short. “If that judge can be in St. John’s so often, then presumably, there would be no reason he could not help out Harbour Grace. We would not need to hire another full-time judge here.”
“So I don’t understand why that is not being done. What rational, logical, reasonable basis, is there for not doing that?”
Short also mentioned some smaller things that the courthouse in Harbour Grace lacked when compared to other courthouses in the province. On this list was an intercom system, a video surveillance system, no dedicated phone line within the courthouse, and even a lack of a sign outside the building stating that it was, in fact, a provincial courthouse.
The addition of a second courtroom would solve just about every issue the court currently faces, according to Short.
“With this second courtroom, something as simple as a two-week preliminary hearing would be no problem. It could be dealt with in the second courtroom, while other matters are tended to in here.”
“With this second courtroom, something as simple as a twoweek preliminary hearing would be no problem. It could be dealt with in the second courtroom, while other matters are tended to in here.”
— Bruce Short
The provincial courthouse in Harbour Grace.