Delays in Revelstoke court shows systemic problems

Problems in Revelstoke court lead to delayed justice, risk of charges getting thrown out.

Covering court in Revelstoke is a strange affair. It’s a mix of the mundane, the bizarre and, recently, the highly disturbing. Court takes place in Revelstoke the first Wednesday and Thursday of every month. Wednesday is for short matters – first appearances, arraignment hearings, applications, sentencings, and short small claims and family court matters.

It’s a hodge podge of cases that frequently get put off, sometimes come to a quick conclusion, and often leave the public at the back somewhat bewildered as to what’s going on. I’ve seen cases get adjourned for several months in a row, and sometimes a guilty plea is entered and everything is wrapped up in hours.

Most of the infractions seem to involve impaired driving, or driving without a license. Sometimes there’s violent assault or drug possession charges on the docket. Those I pay attention to and, depending on the circumstances, will write about in the newspaper. My general rule is to write about people who put the public at risk – whether its through a case of dangerous driving, violent assault, or higher-level drug dealing. Or it could something even more nefarious like the child pornography charges that are working their way through the system.

The court has a rhythm that I’ve gotten used to, but one thing that is clear is that the system has major issues. I recently covered the conclusion of one case that sat idle for several years after the defence lawyer retired just before closing remarks. I guess he didn’t think it was important to wrap up his business before enjoying the rest of his life.

This months court day seemed particularly interesting. First, the courtroom was cleared when the child pornography case started. It’s the first time that’s ever happened in my three years of covering Revelstoke court. The case was adjourned to next month.

Most interesting is Revelstoke’s newest judge, Mayland McKimm. McKimm was appointed a judge in early 2012 and started in Revelstoke in June. When he started, his manner in court was surprising. He could be very jocular, verging on innappropriate, when talking to an accused person. Fortunately, it seems he’s toned that down. How would you like to see a judge chortling when your future is at stake?

More significantly, he’s taken the court to task for the delays and backlogs that plague the system. He’s shown little tolerance for adjournments and he also shows interest in keeping the trial list clean.

One of the bigger issues in Revelstoke court is there’s often more trial time scheduled than there is time to hold a trial. Often, two or so days worth of trials can be scheduled for the one day of trial time Revelstoke is currently allotted.

This month really illustrated the problem. There were four cases set for trial confirmation hearings and each were set for a half-day trial on Thursday, Feb. 7. Obviously, those numbers don’t add up.

Further adding to the problem is the fact three of the trials had already been delayed once before. First up for trial confirmation was Matthew Murray Devlin, who was charged with impaired driving on Feb. 6, 2010. His first trial date in May 2011 was postponed when he failed to appear.

Then there was Michael Darrell Robinson, a serial offender who this time is facing assault charges. His trial was previously set for last September, but was delayed due to a clogged trial list that month.

The other delayed trial was Cameron Paul Thomson. His impaired trial was stopped in August after a mistrial was declared when the Crown prosecutor said she had a conflict with one of the witnesses.

Finally, there was Chad Lott – also facing an impaired charge – who’s trial was the only one to not yet be delayed, so he was the first scratched off February’s trial list.

Then it came down to deciding which two of the three trials should proceed. Robinson, being a case of assault, was put on the list because of the violent nature of the charges.

Devlin was also scheduled for February because his charges were already three years old. That meant Thomson’s trial was delayed once more, prompting his lawyer Melissa Klages to indicate she would seek to have it thrown out of court on account of insitutional delay.

The problem is Revelstoke just doesn’t have enough trial days. While often one day is enough (this month there were no trials on Thursday), there are many instances where one day just isn’t enough. In those cases, the court system needs to be able to allot a second day for trials when required.

This shouldn’t be too hard to do. Trials are scheduled months in advance so the administrators should be able to know when an extra day is needed and plan in advance. If circumstances (such as a guilty plea or stay before the trial) dictate that the trial get cancelled, then we’ll end up paying a judge to stay at home. Still, that’s better than the alternative of having someone dragged through the court system for years, or having a potential criminal get off because of problems with the system.

Of course, this would mean hiring more judges, which means more funding, something the B.C. government needs to provide, hopefully  with support from Ottawa withit’s “tough on crime” agenda.

 

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