Original Published July 11, 2022

The provincial court in Slave Lake, if you haven’t been there, is quite different in some ways from how it was set up in its former location. The new (ish) facility in the government centre was designed for the purpose, unlike the old courthouse upstairs in the SLD Building. In that one, you had prisoners passing through the crowd of people waiting to get into the courtroom. Judge and lawyers too had to pass through the same congested space. It was all fine until something went sideways.

It’s separate entrances, now, of course. Microphones are in use, so it’s a lot easier to hear the judge and the lawyers. The Crown Prosecutors have information at their fingertips on computer screens, which noticeably speeds up the process.

Also making the system more efficient is that some people (last week it was just lawyers, but it can be prisoners on remand too) can appear by video/audio link from wherever they are. Business can be conducted without forcing everybody to drive for two or three hours. Things zipped right along.

As for the actual administration of justice, it’s still the awkward, unsatisfactory thing it has always been. Judges in general are trying hard to find ways of punishing lawbreakers without simply filling jails. Defense lawyers go to great lengths to stretch things out, so as to give their clients time to demonstrate that they have turned their lives around, feel bad about what they’ve done and are unlikely to re-offend. Judges tend to take these things into consideration. Sometimes it’s a mistake; often it isn’t.

There’s a lot of talk about the court system ‘being the problem.’ To some extent that is true. It’s also true that the system is oriented toward giving people who have just done something stupid, or fallen victim to bad judgment, a penalty that isn’t going to hurt them that much. The more times they come back before the court, the tougher the treatment. That’s the philosophy. It’s based on the idea that people are basically good, and if given a chance, they’ll straighten up and fly right.

It took a long time to get to such a point from the days where petty thieves could be hung, or if the state was feeling generous, clapped in chains and put on a ship for Australia.

Where the current system could improve is in recognizing the hard cases and treating them accordingly. Some people are good at playing on the sympathy of the court and getting away with murder, as it were.

But from what we saw last week, at least there are improvements in the speed with which the court conducts its business. This is important, because as we know, there are too many cases generally. This can result in some ‘less serious’ ones being dismissed because the court runs out of time.

One thing is for certain; if people would stop overdoing it with booze and drugs, the court system would have a lot less to deal with.

This item reprinted with permission from Lakeside Leader, Slave Lake, Alberta