Reading government reports takes patience.
Take the B.C. attorney general’s annual service plan update on the legal system.
Start on page one, and it’s all good news, a list of the year’s legal triumphs: 10 more prosecutors to fight gang warfare; bad guys get reduced credit for time served in pre-trial; organized crime tools are beefed up; B.C. takes the lead in cracking down on identity theft and the community court turns out to be a roaring success, dealing with 1,100 offenders in its first six months.
If, however, you manage to make it through the ensuing thicket of government propaganda, the real story emerges on page 12, and these highlights are not as pretty. By its own count, the province fails to achieve success on 12 of 13 of its stated objectives.
And the bar isn’t set very high. You’d have trouble doing the limbo under the only one the ministry did reach. It hoped a measly 12 per cent of British Columbians would perceive that civil and family courts do a good job of providing justice quickly, and that’s exactly what it got.
Some achievement. The government failed to reach all of its other targets.
Some of the performance results echo Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce, Dickens’ infamous indictment of the Victorian legal system in Bleak House. It took 320 days to resolve a case in small claims court and 85 days to resolve a criminal case in provincial court.
The cost of an average trial in B.C. Supreme Court is $60,000. One disgruntled citizen called a radio station and complained someone owes him $60,000 but he’s going to write it off because it would cost $70,000 to collect.
Confidence in the system is justifiably low. Only 26 per cent think the courts are even capable of determining guilt or innocence. Just 44 per cent have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the justice system.
This is B.C., the, uh, “Best Place on Earth,” not some third-rate banana state. Could it be that we’ve thrown so much money at the health-care system over the years that we’ve allowed the legal system to collapse? And collapse it has if you have to pay an average $60,000 and wait 320 days for justice to be done.
As a smiling Mike De Jong says in his covering letter to the report: “The justice system is a vital component of a democratic society and a foundation of a just and prosperous province.”
Considering the state of the system described in the document that follows, I’m left with one question:
Why is that man laughing?