Judge vents on state of court­house

Judge Bruce Short feels dis­re­spected, Jus­tice Min­is­ter will­ing to talk

The Compass - - Front page - BY CHRIS LEWIS

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.

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