With the announcement of hiring more crown attorneys, some critics wonder if the decision will complicate other areas of the Manitoba justice system. – Leah Erenberg
Manitoba’s attorney general will add 53 provincial prosecutors and 29 paralegal and clerical staff by 2016 in order to make caseloads manageable. Some wonder, however, if this will put more pressure on other segments of Manitoba’s justice system.
“We want to make sure that we give our crown attorneys the tools they need to operate at the highest level possible,” said Manitoba Attorney General Andrew Swan. “More crown attorneys will help move cases along more quickly.”
The announcement is in response to a grievance about unmanageable caseloads filed against the province by the Manitoba Association of Crown Attorneys (MACA) in 2006.
“Some cases were dismissed or delayed because the Crown attorneys were just too busy to work on all of them,” said Lisa Carson, president of MACA.
“Further, because Crown attorneys were unable to meet their professional obligations, some were starting to suffer from stress-related conditions.”
While Carson notes that MACA struggles with the retention of experienced senior council, this Oct. 21 announcement should help to recruit new lawyers for careers with the Crown.
“It will be better for morale if they know they won’t be coming into a position with an overwhelming workload,” said Carson, adding that MACA hopes to address benefits and salaries in the future, which should further help with retention.
Progressive Conservative justice critic Kelvin Goertzen wonders if the decision was made in haste.
“The province hasn’t indicated what the total cost will be, which speaks to how hurried they were in making this decision,” said Goertzen.
Carson notes that the decision is a result of a two-year working group discussion between MACA and the justice department.
“The recommended number of additional prosecutors wasn’t plucked out of thin air,” said Carson. “It was based on statistical information on caseloads.”
“ We want to make sure that we give our crown attorneys the tools they need to operate at the highest level possible.
Andrew Swan, Manitoba Attorney General
Costs were not mentioned in this announcement, adds Swan, because those will depend on the range of Crown attorneys to be added, from senior prosecutors to articling students and junior council.
David Asper, assistant professor of law at the University of Manitoba, notes that while this is a positive development, it is only a partial response to a series of problems in the administration of justice.
“This announcement comes at the same time that legal aid is being constrained,” Asper said. “A rise in unrepresented persons who can’t get lawyers may mean an increase in total prosecutions.”
More prosecutions could require more judges, notes Asper, and possibly more jails and parole officers.
Swan notes, however, that there have been investments in other areas of the justice system.
“We’ve given extra money for police officers, as well as increased jail capacity,” Swan said. “We’ve also expanded programs to help reduce the chances of people returning to jail once they get involved with the system.”
Despite these ongoing investments, Carson notes that MACA has historically found otherwise.
“Manitoba’s justice system has been woefully underfunded,” said Carson. “While adding prosecutors is a cost, it’s just a catch-up to make up for the shortfall that’s been there for years.”