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Proposed legislation aims to accelerate N.B. court system

By Regis Phillips May 8, 2024 | 4:34 PM

Two pieces of legislation introduced this week aim to free up more time for judges and the province’s courts.

Justice Minister Ted Flemming said the provincial court is facing significant challenges in addressing its workload due to changes in criminal law and procedure in recent years, along with a general increase in the volume of cases.

The Department of Justice and Public Safety sought ways to free up judicial resources to focus on matters that require the most attention and discovered bail hearings were identified as one area where improvements could be made.

The Justices of the Peace Act would establish justices of the peace as new court officials to conduct bail hearings in place of judges. Virtual bail hearings would also be implemented.

If the legislation is approved, the new justices of the peace would be in place by January, according to the province.

Government officials said there were 8,822 bail-related matters for adults in 2023, up from 8,049 in 2022 and 7,016 in 2021.

The government has also introduced An Act Respecting Hearing Officers.

Flemming said the volume, nature and complexity of child protection cases have grown, resulting in delays in closing cases and increased pressures on the family division of the Court of King’s Bench.

The primary changes would involve merging the role of various court officials under the title of hearing officer. Their authority would be expanded to conduct certain child, youth, and adult protection matters.

“The proposed model is based on the Manitoba child protection model, which has seen great success. We expect to reduce the number of child protection cases that have to go to court by 50 per cent,” said Flemming.

“This will free up family court time and reduce delays for other family law matters, such as for parenting and support orders, contact orders or division of property. It is the equivalent of adding three family court judges.”