Chief judge of provincial court warns of stresses caused by backlog

Chief Judge Pam Williams of the Nova Scotia Provincial Court is voicing concerns about the backlog in the court system. She made her comments Friday at a State of the Courts event. (CBC - image credit)
Chief Judge Pam Williams of the Nova Scotia Provincial Court is voicing concerns about the backlog in the court system. She made her comments Friday at a State of the Courts event. (CBC - image credit)

The chief judge of the Nova Scotia Provincial Court is voicing concerns about the backlog in the court system.

Pam Williams made her comments Friday at the province's first State of the Courts event.

"The increase in the complexity of cases, the volume of cases, and the complement, unfortunately, of judges has not kept pace with the increase in resources afforded to the Crown or to Nova Scotia Legal Aid," Williams said in her prepared remarks.

"Or it hasn't kept pace, either, with the demographics of our growing province."

Nova Scotia has 28 full-time provincial court judges. There are two vacancies and a third judge is on long-term leave.

Williams said the court, even at full strength, has struggled to deal with a backlog that got worse during the pandemic.

Good, bad and ugly

She said the pandemic brought good, bad and ugly.

The good, she said, was that courts had to adapt to changing technologies by holding remote hearings and accepting electronic documents when public gatherings were banned.

CBC
CBC

Williams described the bad as the stress caused by having to deal with the backlog, but noted that stress is not unique to the court system.

"The ugly, I'm afraid to say, is the ongoing backlog of criminal court cases, which is significant," Williams said.

"It has significant impact on the people we serve, it has significant impact on members of the public and the rest of the system."

Williams said judges are making an extra effort to cope in the short term. But she said that cannot be sustained.

Pandemic adjustments

She was joined by the chief justices of the Court of Appeal and Nova Scotia Supreme Court who also reflected on pandemic impacts.

Chief Justice Michael Wood said that by resorting to virtual hearings and other measures, the Court of Appeal did not have a significant backlog of cases.

Chief Justice Deborah K. Smith of the Supreme Court said judges and staff in that court stepped up to steer the court through the pandemic.

She said they learned that it was not always necessary to hold hearings in person, which greatly reduced the risk of exposure to the virus.

But Smith said having people participate in court proceedings by phone created challenges of decorum.

"Holding court with an individual who is ordering a double-double in a drive-thru is never a good idea," Smith said.

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