Richmond courts ‘wholly insufficient’ to meet demands of cases
Inadequate legal aid funding leads more people to represent themselves
The Richmond provincial family and youth court is not meeting the demands of the city’s legal cases and an increasing number of people with no legal training are representing themselves.
Those were some of the findings of the Richmond family and youth court committee, whose chairperson Heather McDonald told city council Feb. 26 that more pressure needs to be put on the provincial and federal governments to address the concerns.
More pressure on the provincial and federal governments is needed.
“We’ve known of a growing number of backlogged cases and unreasonable delays in the provincial justice system in the Richmond provincial court,” McDonald said. “In our view, the numbers of family court judges, family court counselors, registry staff, and duty counsel appear to be wholly insufficient to meet the demands of a number of cases before the courts in Richmond.”
McDonald’s comments were based on a 2017 report produced by the committee, which also found:
- Long delays in scheduling appointments with a case manager—and for hearings and trial—increase concerns for families suffering trauma caused by a break-up.
- Inadequate legal aid funding in B.C. contributes to the number of unrepresented people and further delays court proceedings.
- An inadequate system for interpretation and translation services.
- Not enough court rooms and staff leads to scheduling different types of cases in the same court, on the same days.
- The absence of a receptionist to guide visitors, the lack of a cafeteria or coffee shop, as well as a proper seating area for disabled and elderly visitors.
- The family law court schedule is not posted until the morning of a hearing.
Lawyer Gary W.D. Abrams, an advisor to the committee, wants to see the courts run more efficiently.
“There’s a general lack of organization that applies to the whole registry not just to the family one,” Abrams said.
Shortage of staff is the main problem
“Short staffing rather than stupidity or laziness is the main source of the problem there.”
He said people forced to represent themselves are doing so because of insufficient legal aid. The lack of aid also affects people experiencing family problems and facing criminal charges, he said, noting non-English speakers are also at a disadvantage.
“We have a large number in Richmond that do not have a grasp for English, and many people including some of the same who do not have the vaguest idea of how the court functions,” Abrams said.
Coun. Carol Day, council’s liaison to the committee, said in an email she was glad to learn of the committee’s findings. But, she added, council wants to first hear back from the provincial government before responding to the report.
“The courts fall under the jurisdiction of the province so I feel that the information should go to the province first and then when they respond we can address the issues that were mentioned,” Day said.
The committee planned to send a letter to Attorney General David Eby and Deputy Attorney General Richard Fyfe outlining the report’s recommendations for changes to the Richmond courts.
A spokesperson from Eby’s office said they had not received a letter from the committee, and would not be providing comment until one was received.