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More judges needed to deal with case backlog, says Nova Scotia chief justice


The provincial court system in Nova Scotia is emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic under significant strain, said Chief Judge Pamela Williams at the Inaugural State of the Nova Scotia Courts Address, held Friday afternoon.

“There are increasing challenges with our current complement,” said Williams. "The increase in the complexity of cases and the volume of cases and the complement of judges, unfortunately, has not kept pace.”

Judge Williams said the number of judges appointed to the provincial bench hasn’t kept pace with the increasing amount of cases and workload and it hasn’t kept up with the demographics of a growing province either.

“It has significant impact on members of the public and the rest of the system and there is increasing pressure to book more cases, to hear more matters, deliver more decisions, judges sitting more days, and what does that result in? More work in the evenings and weekends,” said Williams.

The provincial court system carries a roster of 28 full-time judges but Williams says there are currently two vacancies and another judge out on long-term leave.

Staffing shortages are having an impact on the entire court system and the people they serve, said Williams, and she’s concerned for the mental health of court staff and those serving on the bench.

“Quite frankly, I do worry about the well-being of the judges on the provincial court,” said Williams.

Over the past year, seven new judges have been appointed to the provincial court but there have also been six retirements.

Nova Scotia’s Justice Minister Brad Johns says they are putting more judges on the bench but there's a higher-than-average retirement rate underway, but in the meantime, Johns says the province won't increase the complement of judges beyond 28.

"We've had the discussion internally with the DOJ (Department of Justice) but right at the moment, we are going to continue with the 28 number,” said Johns. “Our immediate goal is to fill any existing vacancies and then we are still having discussions about whether or not we’ll look at increasing the bench loads."

While other levels of the court system were able to utilize remote and virtual technology during the pandemic to hear cases, Williams says many cases at the provincial level couldn't be held virtually and it’s increased the backlog in cases.

Along with staffing issues, Williams says the provincial court system has capacity issues and they currently don't have enough courtrooms to hear the cases.

“They [judges] can only do so much and some would like to do more but we don’t have enough courtrooms to hear additional matters,” said Williams. Top Stories

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