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Quick action demanded for ‘crisis’ in B.C. legal system

Damien Alexander Ravenchild takes in some sweetgrass during a native smudge ceremony and protest outside the Vancouver court house March 30, 2009.

JOHN LEHMANN/The Globe and Mail

British Columbia's justice system is in crisis and the issue must be pushed to the top of the agenda for the spring election campaign, says a national organization representing the legal community.

The B.C. branch of the Canadian Bar Association released a campaign platform document Tuesday, saying the governing Liberals and Opposition New Democrats must consider changes before voters head to the polls in May.

B.C. association spokeswoman Kerry Simmons said more than $113-million in funding cuts since 2002 have crippled the legal system.

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She said British Columbians want fewer court delays and are frustrated that some criminal cases are tossed out of court because of lengthy delays.

"Not a day goes by when you don't hear a story or read a story where people are asking questions or raising concerns about the justice system," she said. "This document says, here are some things we can do."

Justice Minister Shirley Bond said she recently met with Ms. Simmons and that the government shares her goals for an effective, timely justice system for families and communities.

She said the government has made progress reducing delays in the justice system. Nine new judges were appointed to ease caseload pressures and two court backlog reduction projects are under way.

The bar association's report, "An Agenda for Justice," says British Columbians want a system that delivers family stability, community security, business certainty and public accountability.

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