Ministry of Attorney General identifies challenges ahead
According to Allan Seckel, QC, Deputy Attorney General for BC, there are three major challenges the Ministry is addressing: public confidence in the justice system; scarcity of time for legislative proposals; and scarcity of government financial resources. Mr. Seckel expanded on how the Ministry is dealing with those challenges when he made a presentation to the Benchers at their September meeting.
Public confidence in the justice system
Public confidence in the justice system is one of the Attorney General’s main concerns, said Mr. Seckel. “Unfortunately the perception we face is that the system is slow, unresponsive, self-interested and process bound. And the worst part is the public doesn’t think we’re doing anything about it.” Mr. Seckel told the Benchers that perception has a direct impact on government funding flowing to the justice system. “There is no desire to throw money after something that’s perceived to be mediocre, so we have some real challenges. We either have to convince people that it’s not a mediocre system, or we have to actually do something about the problems.”
Mr. Seckel said one area the Ministry is focusing on to try to improve the system is law reform and innovation, including greater integration with social services. “We’ve got a large population in BC of people who are in the criminal justice system because they’re either sick or have another social issue. And they don’t necessarily belong in the justice system because it may not actually be well suited to their needs. So we need to find better ways to engage the social systems with that clientele.” Mr. Seckel said it has not been an easy task, because facilities accommodating social and health needs aren’t necessarily equipped to deal with people found in the criminal justice system.
The province is also working on a pilot project that will further integrate health and social services in the justice system. The Ministry of Attorney General hopes to open a community court in Vancouver within 18 months. The Ministry wants the community court to bring a different way of thinking about the court and the parties involved with it.
Mr. Seckel told the Benchers that another challenge the Ministry faces is that legislative time is scarce. About one third of the legislative proposals come from the Ministry of Attorney General. It isn’t possible to get them all on the agenda because, said Mr. Seckel, “there’s only so much time for the legislature and Cabinet to consider all of the things that have to happen.” The best way to get justice issues on the agenda is to make sure they fit within established political priorities and to “recognize that there is a political cycle and there are times when things can get done and times when things can’t.”
If current trends in provincial spending on health and education continue, government research shows that within the next 15 years, those areas will take all available provincial funding and other areas, including the justice system, will run out of money. Mr. Seckel told the Benchers this is not an issue unique to BC, as the rest of Canada’s provinces are watching similar trends. In addition, he said, “we can all probably agree that governments are not going to be able to turn off the tap for police and the courts. But what it really shows is the intense competition that’s going on internally for funding. There are no entitlements.” Mr. Seckel said the Ministry of Attorney General is dealing with that by trying to work within the system to make sure justice issues have importance within the overall government structure.