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BC justice system review is more talk when action needed, say critics

Opponents panned British Columbia Premier Christy Clark's announcement this morning of a review of the justice system.

The province released a green paper that will lead to a white paper by September, 2012. It appointed Geoffrey Cowper, who headed the Frank Paul commission, to chair the review. The discussion builds on an internal finance ministry audit of the system.

Delays and costs in the justice system have increased despite dropping crime levels, Clark told reporters this morning. The government is not going to automatically put money into the system, she said.

"The crime rate is dropping but we're still seeing increases in the number of cases delayed and stayed," she said. "This tells us systemic changes are needed. Our reform initiative will identify long-term, fiscally responsible solutions that improve outcomes and accountability for the significant investments we're already making."

"We're going to have a conversation," said Justice Minister Shirley Bond, who noted more money had been put into the system as recently as December, 2011.

The BC Liberals have been the government for 11 years and have conducted several reviews on the justice system, but has failed to act on them, said NDP Leader Adrian Dix. "The chaos in the justice system is their responsibility, the direct result of their actions."

Launching the review indicates the government plans to do nothing to fix the situation in the budget to be released Feb. 21, said Dix. Asked if the NDP would put more money into the system, he said, "Most people would say doing nothing in these circumstances is not an option."

"This is a mess," said NDP justice critic Leonard Krog. "What's been announced today isn't going to move us forward."

The BC Conservatives released a statement quoting John Martin, a criminologist who will be their candidate in the Chilliwack-Hope byelection. "All this report does is confirm what judges and prosecutors have been telling us for months -- that the system is bogged down and criminals are walking free because of Liberal cuts," he said. "What B.C.'s justice system needs is action, not more reports."

A BC Conservative government would put more money into the system, restoring all cuts the Liberal government has made to the system since 2001, he said. "It is painfully obvious this government has lost all control of the management of the justice system and is in a state of desperate, reactive panic."

Clark also announced the government has combined the positions of Attorney General and Public Safety and Solicitor General into a single Justice Minister position, which Shirley Bond will continue to fill after having headed both ministries for most of a year.

Lightening the load, responsibility for liquor and gaming have transferred from Solicitor General to Energy and Mines Minister Rich Coleman, and ICBC and the Public Sector Employer's Council are now the responsibility of Finance Minister Kevin Falcon.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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