'It's not right': Federal judge accuses government of chronic underfunding
Published Tuesday, June 27, 2017 7:29PM EDT
Canada’s Federal Court has been repeatedly denied much-needed funding by the federal government, leading to lengthy delays, according to its chief justice.
The main problem, says Federal Court Chief Justice Paul Crampton, is that the court tasked with hearing disputes involving federal bodies is forced to go to the government “cap in hand” for the money it needs.
Year after year, requests for increased funding have been denied, Crampton says.
“They cut our budget. They force us to absorb annual increases in salaries, inflation, and whatnot. So our ability to do what we are required to do under the constitution gets diminished,” Crampton told CTV’s Power Play on Tuesday.
He is now going public with his complaints and calling for more independence between the executive branch and judicial branch when it comes to funding.
Crampton, who was appointed by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, says he thinks elected officials should help decide how much money the Federal Court receives.
“I think there should be greater involvement of Parliament,” Crampton said.
The Federal Court hears cases that fall under certain areas of federal law. For instance, the court hears claims brought forward against the federal government, reviews issues of national security like warrant requests, and checks the legality of actions taken by most federal offices.
An increase in funding could mean a total modernization of the way the court operates, Crampton said. By turning to technology, he says electronic courtrooms could help cut wait times and decrease expensive legal costs for those involved.
Instead, he says the courts are left scrambling simply to meet demand.
“We have been chronically underfunded now for a number of years, and what that results in is people having to wait much longer for their day in court, they have to wait much longer for their decisions to be issued, they have to spend much more time and money interfacing with the court,” he said.
“And so their confidence in the rule of law and their access to justice gets diminished, and that’s not a good thing.”
Court delays have become a major headache for the Canadian government. Several high-profile criminal cases have been recently thrown out over unreasonable delays. Last July, the Supreme Court ruled that a reasonable time to await trial means 18 months for provincial courts and 30 months for superior courts.
The Federal Court, which oversees legal disputes in the federal domain, is not directly affected by the R. v. Jordan ruling.
Still, Crampton says the Federal Court is being denied the ability to function to the best of its ability because the government doesn’t prioritize it in the budget.
“It seems that every single year there’s another priority that comes out of the blue that gets priority on the courts,” he said.
“And so the courts keep getting relegated to the back seat. But not only are we not getting additional funding, our actual existing funding each year for the last several years has declined.”
Crampton says he’s fearful that the underfunding could lead to a weakening of the public’s confidence in the ability of the Federal Court to get its job done.
“I think [people will] start taking the law into their own hands, victims have to wait longer to see justice done, people who are accused of crimes have to wait longer for their day in court. Parties to dispute have to wait longer. Is not right,” he said.