TV stunts won’t solve court problems

Premier Christy Clark handed her opponents more ammunition last week with her latest “ready, fire, aim” episode, calling for radio and TV coverage of Stanley Cup riot prosecutions.

VICTORIA – Premier Christy Clark handed her opponents more ammunition last week with her latest “ready, fire, aim” episode, calling for radio and TV coverage of Stanley Cup riot prosecutions.

The day after this half-baked idea was announced, Public Safety Minister Shirley Bond had to sign an executive order directing Crown prosecutors to ask judges for broadcast coverage. Prosecutors have enough trouble getting convictions in our stumbling, delay-plagued court system without spending time on TV applications for minor cases.

Bond referred reporters to the long list of conditions under which broadcasting may be done from court. In the unlikely event a judge consents to broadcast access, nothing can be aired until at least two hours after a morning or afternoon session has been adjourned. Absurdly, everyone involved, from lawyers to witnesses to defendants, has a veto over their image or voice being broadcast. No accused people would consent to that. The rules are designed to fail.

I’m all in favour of televising court, not so much to shame perpetrators as to show what a cozy little closed shop it is. I recently sat in on the plea-bargained sentence for James Roy Taylor, the former Fraser Health technology manager caught with his hand in the cookie jar for the second time in his career.

Crown and defence lawyers exchanged legalese barely above a whisper, congratulating each other for the elegance of the tap on the wrist they were giving Taylor for accepting multiple benefits in exchange for approving fraudulent invoices for a doctor supplying questionable electronic health services. Taylor has to do community service, pay back the lolly he admits accepting, and take a reduced pension on account of being fired as a crook. Poor fellow.

Anyone who has sat in court for long sees the endless parade of adjournments and excuses that routinely substitute for progress. Years ago I publicized the efforts a pioneering group of youth court observers, ordinary citizens horrified by the sluggish pace of proceedings. Day after day they saw smirking teens watch lawyers compare schedules before heading off to lunch. Those citizens’ efforts led to a diversion program for first-time offenders to provide timely consequences for first-time offenders.

Don’t take it from me on the state of our courts. Gov. Gen. David Johnston, a law professor before being appointed the Queen’s representative in Canada, gave a speech in August in which he ripped lawyers for violating their social contract with the public with unacceptable delays.

“We enjoy a monopoly to practise law,” Johnston told the Canadian Bar Association meeting. “In return, we are duty-bound to serve our clients competently, to improve justice and to continuously create the good. That’s the deal.”

As usual, the political debate is nearly sterile. The NDP wants more judges, prosecutors, sheriffs and courthouses. Pour more money in, just like the school and health systems, says the party that hasn’t had a new idea in 30 years.

Bond did propose a new idea last week. Probation orders with conditions will soon be available for those charged with public drunkenness under the Liquor Control and Licensing Act rather than the Criminal Code.  But they would still have to go to court.

Perhaps the government could take a cue from their recent revision of impaired driving laws, giving police the ability to assess fines and impound vehicles on the spot. Perhaps by the time the next big drunken riot starts to brew, cops would actually be able to offer consequences.

Going around the court system is their best bet these days.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

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