A report on B.C.'s justice system has concluded the courts are mired in a "culture of delay" that is resistant to change and eroding public confidence in the system.
The 270-page report by lawyer and justice reform commissioner Geoffrey Cowper points to timely justice as "a critical goal that can and must be achieved."
The public has little patience for endless delays and doesn't accept "the etiquette and professional understandings" among lawyers that can lead to frequent adjournments, wrote Cowper.
But there are few incentives for most players in the justice system to speed things up, he wrote.
Some defence lawyers are also concerned that an emphasis on efficiency could come at the cost of fairness for the accused.
Cowper recommends better administration of the justice system to make use of currently available court time, and earlier setting of trial dates.
North Vancouver lawyer Jay Straith said the report contains "some good general ideas to speed up the system."
But without more money, Straith said a lot of those ideas will be hard to put into practice.
Cowper points out in his report that the crime rate in B.C. is continuing to drop. Most of that decline is due to a substantial drop in property crime. Starting in 2011, there were also 8,000 fewer impaired driving cases being recommended by police in B.C., who can now issue administrative tickets for drunk driving without going through the courts.
The number of charges for breaching court orders is up dramatically however. Cowper said those kinds of charges now make up 45 per cent of all charges being dealt with by the courts and said they need to be reduced.
Another reason "the system" doesn't use time effectively is that 70 per cent of trials that are scheduled collapse at the last minute, wrote Cowper. About 40 per cent of those involve the accused pleading guilty right before the trial is to start.
Cowper said in many cases, the accused has no incentive to plead guilty at an earlier date.
Another 15 per cent of trials are abandoned by Crown prosecutors at the 11th hour.
Straith said when that happens it's often because Crown prosecutors haven't had time to review the case earlier.
People who don't have access to Legal Aid and legal advice at an early stage can also prolong court cases when they try to represent themselves in court, he said.
Despite the focus on trials by many in the public, Cowper wrote only two per cent of cases actually go to trial. In the vast majority of cases, trials aren't even scheduled. About a third of all cases are resolved within 30 days of a first appearance in court, 50 per cent are resolved within three months and 80 per cent are finished within a year, wrote Cowper. In addition, almost three-quarters of all cases take half a day or less of court time.
Cowper said the existing caseload and backlog could be handled with the hiring of five additional judges. He also recommended that more money be made available for Legal Aid.