Criminal Law

Fully staffed prosecution only ‘one-third of the solution’

By AdvocateDaily.com Staff

The addition of more prosecutors is good news for Alberta, and will provide help with the increased caseload facing the province’s criminal justice system, says Calgary criminal lawyer Greg Dunn.

Dunn, principal of Dunn & Associates, adds that ensuring a fully staffed team of prosecutors is only part of the answer.

“It’s a good thing in my view anytime money is allocated for criminal justice. Having an effective, fair and timely justice system is critical in a liberal democracy, and I’m happy to see resources being assigned accordingly,” he tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“However, a fully staffed prosecution is only one-third of the solution. You also need enough judges to hear the cases and, in some situations for impecunious individuals, a fairly funded legal aid system. Balance in the system is important,” Dunn says.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney told The Canadian Press (CP) that the possibility of criminals walking away from charges is unacceptable, and the government will be announcing plans to hire 50 more prosecutors in the near future.

Kenney said money is tight, but the government has put aside another $10 million for the prosecution service, CP reports.

“The first responsibility of government is to maintain public safety, and the notion that criminals are getting off scot-free simply because we have an inadequate number of prosecutors is to me totally unacceptable,” Kenney told the national news agency.

In 2016, the Supreme Court’s Jordan decision imposed time limits on how long a criminal matter can take before trial and deemed unreasonably delayed.

The ruling said people charged with an offence have the right to have their case tried within 18 months in provincial courts and 30 months in Superior Courts.

Dunn says it’s difficult to determine exactly what impact hiring more prosecutors will have on the province’s backlogged court system.

Should the additional Crown attorneys be used to simply prosecute every case that comes through the door, it won’t make a significant dent, he warns.

“However, if the additional resources are utilized to both prosecute serious cases and still triage less-serious crimes — when I say triage I mean to be able to resolve them without the necessity of running a full-blown trial — then it will definitely help,” Dunn says.

He adds that he would have preferred the premier use less inflammatory language to explain why the prosecutors were being hired. However, Dunn is less concerned with the lexicon as he is pleased with the additional resources.

“I think it’s important to stress that the criminal justice system needs to be appropriately funded. It is just as important, if not more in my view, as other social programs such as health care or education. Most people just see it as an unwanted expense created by ‘criminals,’ he says.

“However, it is essential for the maintenance of a civil society and acts as a highly effective check on the power of the state. Overall, it is foundational for the maintenance of a free and robust liberal democracy,” Dunn says.

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