10/20/2006

Bill 14, An Act to promote access to justice by amending or repealing various Acts and by enacting the Legislation Act, passed Third Reading in the Legislature yesterday.
Access to Justice Act will regulate paralegals and reform the justice of the peace system. It will also update the Provincial Offences Act, the Limitations Act, 2002, and the Courts of Justice Act. The act will ensure a more open and transparent appointment process for justices of the peace. Reforms will establish minimum qualifications for justices of the peace and establish a new Justices of the Peace Appointments Advisory Committee that will reflect Ontario’s diversity and regional differences. The Act introduces increased flexibility by providing that experienced retired justices of the peace can be temporarily assigned to specific matters on a per diem basis.

Analysis:  
The current shortage of JPs has created a crisis situation in the POA Courts. This shortage has resulted in case backlogs, cases dropped, and lost time for police services and court personnel, all of which compromises the public’s faith in and access to the justice system.  In addition, there is a significant financial impact on the municipal sector.

For example, the City of Toronto recently had 4 courtrooms mothballed until further notice and a 30% shortfall in available Justices of the Peace. Meanwhile, the Region of Durham advises that next month it will have 8 days with no Judiciary scheduled in any of its 19 trial and first appearance courts. A further 10 courts will have no justices of the peace at all.  This will result in a loss of 1500 or more cases.

Across the province, this lack of JPs results in $1,000,000 more in fines being unpaid and uncollected each week, including a loss of $167,000 to the Provincial Victims of Crime fund.

Bill 14 is a good first step toward addressing the JP shortage. AMO was joined by the  Municipal Court Managers Association, Municipal Law Departments Association of Ontario, Prosecutors Association of Ontario, Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Ontario Association of Police Service Boards in agreeing that minimum qualifications and a new selection process were necessary, that all new justices of the peace should be full-time presiding justices, and that retired JPs should be allowed to hear POA offences on a per diem basis. 

AMO has expressed its approval of the provision to enable retired JPs to hear POA offences on a per diem basis. AMO will analyze future development with the expectation that the Province will appoint more JPs as soon as possible.