Keep courts here, says task force 

Jack Le Blanc
Local News - Friday, August 06, 2004 @ 10:00

Quinte West residents deserve to have their legal matters dealt with, and have legal services provided within their own community, a mayor’s task force on court facilities says.

Lawyer Kris Bonn – who chaired the task force consisting of Quinte West OPP Detachment Commander Insp. Earl Johns, Hastings County Law Association president John Mastorakos, probation and parole officer Victoria DeGrace, Mental Health Services Court Diversion officer Stella Maschas, and Three Oaks Foundation executive director Patty Parks – presented the completed task force report to Mayor Bob Campney.

Campney said he, Bonn and local provincial court judge, Justice Stephen Hunter, plan to present the task force report to provincial court officials and Northumberland MPP Lou Rinaldi.

Hunter says he supports a full-service court facility for Quinte West.

Criminal court service in Trenton, which had been held weekly until April, has now been reduced to the first and third Tuesday of each month.

The Quinte West court saw about 40 per cent of its caseload transferred to Belleville with the start of a dedicated domestic violence court in April 2003.

All judicial interim release hearings are heard in Belleville, and the family law division left the court house in Trenton several years ago.

Youth Criminal Justice Act Court is held in Trenton on the second and fourth Thursday of each month.

“As an independent community Quinte West should not have to rely on Belleville court facilities,” the task force report says.

Belleville, about 20 km from downtown Trenton, poses transportation problems for low-income earners. Bus service from Trenton to Belleville and back is available just three times daily.

“The schedule is inflexible and makes it difficult for those residents who are also trying to balance work and family schedules with necessary court appearances or accessing court facilities to pay fines.”

The task force report recommends expanding provincial court services in Quinte West. The former City Hall in downtown Trenton and the federal building on Front Street care being suggested as possible sites.

“One of the most important and frequent users of the court system is the police,” Insp. Johns says. “The police are responsible for transporting in-custody accused individuals to and from the court house; maintaining security at the court house; appearing as witnesses at many of the trial hearings, and interacting with the Crown Attorney and defence counsel in resolving cases ... A viable court facility in downtown Quinte West would provide benefits...

“There is an inherent value in having a full service court within the municipality. Officers who attend court would be a visible presence in the community. ... The residents of Quinte West should have the opportunity to see that justice is done within their own community... ,” Johns said.

“The lack of proper services within the community renders the residents as second class individuals, often leaving them unable to access a necessary service and potentially leading to further legal problems instead of resolving them,” Mastorakos said as a Quinte-area barrister. “These further legal problems increase the expense and burden on the current system.”

A full service court facility would include the ability to pay fines, obtain Legal Aid Ontario documentation, and report to probation or other court-appointed services.

Bringing together a broad range of services would result in savings both to the individual required to attend court, to the municipality, and to the province, the report says.

“The reality is that court dockets are increasing in size, not shrinking,” Bonn said. “Court services and facilities in Belleville are currently being stretched to their limits and there is no reason to believe this trend will not continue.

“By taking action now to expand court facilities and services in Quinte West at a time when resources and costs can be planned and controlled, a situation will be avoided in which an emergency response may be required in the future.”