The Justice on Target program can work if all of the members of the justice system come together and embrace change, says Attorney General John Gerretsen.
“Change for everyone is hard to accept,” says Gerretsen. “As people, we are often reluctant to change, whether it is in our personal lives or otherwise, but it’s necessary in order to see positive results. It requires everyone to come together. If they really want [the project] to work, it can happen.”
Speaking about his plans for 2012 in an interview last week, Gerretsen defended the Justice on Target project, which a review obtained by Law Times has shown is experiencing significant problems in meeting its goals of reducing appearances and time to disposition in criminal matters by 30 per cent.
Despite inconsistent and sometimes negative results, Gerretsen says the project may continue and expand.
“The amount of money needed for Justice on Target is relatively small compared to the results that it’s achieved so far,” he says.
“Sometimes we have to make commitments. I realize change for everyone is hard to accept, but we will see positive results if people like lawyers and Crowns are willing to change the way they operate. If they really want it to work, it can happen.”
Still, the post-implementation review noted the results so far at five Toronto-area courthouses have been relatively modest or have even gone in the opposite direction of the project’s goal of speeding up the court system.
While the Ministry of the Attorney General says the number of appearances in criminal cases has decreased across the province on a year-to-year basis, the review showed the time to dispose of cases largely remained the same or even increased.
So while people are making fewer appearances, the time to handle a matter has largely remained stagnant.
Gerretsen, however, points to the positive results. “The number of appearances have gone down overall. Statistically, it may only represent a seven- or eight-per-cent change, but they have gone down.
Now they might not reach 30 per cent by their deadline but they are making progress. That will be our next challenge, but for now at least we’ve shaved the appearance times down.”
Gerretsen adds that slow adoption by the justice system and the particular circumstances of each courthouse have also affected the project’s results.
“There are still challenges ahead with Justice on Target, but right now it seems to be more of an issue of people actually implementing it,” says Gerretsen.
“In larger courts, the project will also not be the same as it is in smaller courts. You’ll have different results. Justice on Target works its way out differently in every court.”
In the meantime, Gerretsen says the ministry will continue working on the project and will make changes as necessary. “Any time you are trying to change the culture of something, changes will probably have to be made on all sides.
That’ll take time. We’re working on it in 2012 and we’ll be looking to expand it past its deadline most likely.”
As for his other priorities in 2012, a key item on Gerretsen’s to-do list is an expansion of the unified family court system across the province.
The province already has 17 unified family courts in places like Barrie, Hamilton, London, and Peterborough, Ont. But Gerretsen says the time to consider the system’s expansion across the entire province has come.
“Of course, there will be issues that we’ll have to look at in trying to change the system, as with anything,” he says. “But I think the important thing to remember is that it would allow us to focus on the goal of providing what’s best for the people using the system.”
Gerretsen notes he’ll also be focusing on “getting a handle on” funding for victims of crime and tackling the federal government’s omnibus crime bill this year.
“We’ll be looking to put more funding and resources into those victimized groups and will see whether or not the programs’ funding can be enhanced,” he says.
“Traditionally, the judicial system hasn’t been very much concerned about victims, and I think we could be doing more to make sure the system is fair to both the victims and the accused.”
Other areas expected to get funding in 2012 include legal aid, according to Gerretsen, who notes the program has become less available in recent years due to changing eligibility criteria.
He notes the government will continue improvements to legal aid with an extra $15 million possibly available for it this year.
An additional area of concern is the omnibus crime bill that will toughen up laws and provide for longer sentences for offenders. The province, Gerretsen says, will go into talks this month with the federal government on the bill.
His main concern, he points out, will be making sure the province isn’t “unduly burdened” by the additional costs of jailing more offenders for longer periods of time.
For more, see "Justice on Target missing its mark: report." For a related story on new judicial rulings dealing with Justice on Target, see "Cases hint at reasons for project's struggles" on page 2 of the print edition of Law Times.