Crisis in the judicial system: almost a third of cases are at risk of being “abandoned”
A standoff pits the government against the Chief Justice of the Court of Quebec over the reorganization of judges' working hours.
Quebec criminal and penal judges have only been sitting every other day since the fall.
According to the Ministry of Justice, 50,000 of the 162,000 cases that must be heard in Quebec courts in 2023 risk being abandoned because the delays are too long. Delays that have lengthened this fall, because the judges only sit every other day.
This follows a decision by the Chief Justice of the Court of Québec, Lucie Rondeau, who reorganized the work of judges in criminal and penal matters so that they have more time to devote to deliberations in files which are, she says, more and more complex.
The judges, who sat until this fall two days out of three, now only sit one day out of two. This represents a net loss of 4,617 hearing days per year. A situation that worries many players in the community who fear significant repercussions, particularly for victims who have taken legal action before the courts.
Quebec Minister of Justice, Simon Jolin-Barrette, who was interviewed on the show Tout un matin, deplores this unilateral decision.
We were informed unilaterally, with a knife to our throats, that the ratios were going to change. This has an impact on the number of files that risk being out of time Jordan […] and that the accused will be released without having their trial. And that is unacceptable in our society.
According to data analyzed by the Ministry of Justice, 50,000 of the 162,000 cases that must be heard in court could be abandoned due to lengthening deadlines.
The Minister claims to have tried since December 2021 to suspend the decision of the Chief Justice while we find a solution together, in vain.
It also seems to this impossible to work together that the case itself ends up in court. The reform was validated by a Superior Court judge on November 3, but the government is not giving up and the case will be heard in the Court of Appeal in 2023.
There are fears about the delays that will lengthen, but it is a crisis that does not date from yesterday and which is linked to underfunding, underlines Me Catherine Claveau, president of Quebec, also in an interview with the show Tout un matin.
“We repeat it: if we had more money in the justice system, we could have more judges, more court clerks, more special constables, that would be much better. »
— Me Catherine Claveau, President of Quebec
But according to Simon Jolin-Barrette, the problem is deeper and comes in particular from the ways of doing things. It is not only a question of resources because each time we add more, we end up with the same problem. We need to change the cake recipe [and] our old practices.
According to him, the Court of Quebec is asking for 41 additional judges, but only to compensate for the reduction in work performance. This means that the citizen will gain nothing on the net. There will not be a minute more court room for litigants to reduce delays.
He adds that the crisis persists as the Quebec judicial system has gone from 290 judges in 2016 to 319 judges in 2022.
“I am open to giving additional resources, but it has to translate through efficiency gains and to reduce our lead times.
— Simon Jolin-Barrette, Minister of Justice of Quebec
Me Claveau agrees with Minister Jolin-Barrette that money will not solve everything. But while waiting to find lasting solutions, there is an urgency. The top priority, she said, is to convince the Minister of the Treasury to put more money into the justice system to plug some of the loopholes that are currently there.
The various actors community will then be able to sit down together and discuss non-financial solutions that could help unclog the courts. Maybe our files are too judicialized? Mediation, for example, could be mandatory in other areas, such as small claims, is currently proposing Me Catherine Claveau.
In the meantime, the Director of Criminal Prosecutions and criminal cases, Me Patrick Michel, ensures that cases of domestic and sexual violence will be prioritized if the delays already observed in Quebec courts continue to increase.