WEYBURN – Justice Minister Bronwyn Eyre cited an increase of cases from Weyburn, along with lobbying from many people, as she officially announced the reopening of Court of King’s Bench Judicial Centre and Registry Office.
She and Weyburn-Big Muddy MLA Dustin Duncan hosted a press conference on Thursday afternoon in the Weyburn Court House to talk about the reopening of services, and they took part in a tour of the historic building.
Among the guests at the announcement were local lawyers, members of the Weyburn Police Service, city councillors and the Weyburn Chamber of Commerce.
“A registry office means staff, and that is so important that the citizens of Weyburn can once again deal with a person to pay fines, file small claims, file court documents, get information. With staff here, that’s how the proverbial flow of things will move faster through the system,” said Eyre.
She noted there have been delays up to three months to process files, or up to two and a half months even for an uncontested divorce to go through.
“You need a registry office, and fully reopening the office, we feel, sends a strong signal to the community and to law enforcement,” said the minister, noting once staff has been hired and everything is in place, the registry office will be open Monday to Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
There will be three registry staff and three deputy sheriffs hired full-time to staff the court house, with estimates that it will take until the new year for this to be in place. Eyre noted the jobs were posted right after the Throne Speech, and will take a few weeks to be filled.
Some of the factors that went into the decision to reopen the judicial centre and registry office include the increasing caseload of matters going to both Estevan and Regina from the Weyburn area.
The justice minister noted that fully one-third of the cases being heard in Estevan are from Weyburn, and Estevan has also seen an increase in criminal trials in the last five years. In 2016, the time to trial for matters in provincial court was an average of 89 days in Estevan and 115 days in Weyburn, and that is now 189 days in Estevan and 234 days in Weyburn.
Eyre said while these are provincial court numbers, “they certainly speak to the overall demand. We’ve heard from lawyers, from police officers and even from judges in terms of their written decisions, pointing to files that have been taken off the books, the speed and process being significantly slowed down and damage overall to the perception of justice.”
“We don’t want that, we don’t want any more serious drug charges being stayed, or any serious charges. It doesn’t make sense that police officers from Weyburn are travelling to Estevan to appear in court, when they only have 20 or 21 officers, so that takes two or three officers at a time out of the mix to testify in Estevan when they’re definitely needed here,” she added.
Eyre said she’s also heard there are several cases going to Regina from Weyburn, even ones from Yellow Grass, a short distance from Weyburn; small claims are issued out of Regina, and chambers are held in Estevan, sometimes going late into the night.
“Fixing this is not just about Weyburn, it’s about the whole province, and certainly the southern part of the province. Reopening the court sends a signal I believe that justice is open for the business of serving people, prosecutors, law enforcement, and it will address concerns about access to justice in Weyburn and around Weyburn,” said the minister.
“I can’t tell you how pleased I am for this decision for this service reopening to the residents of Weyburn,” added Duncan.
Eyre noted that there were some overlaps with her previous portfolio of Energy and Resources, as she was in Weyburn for the Saskatchewan Oil and Gas Show only the day after becoming Justice Minister and Attorney-General of Saskatchewan. She came to the show to give a final speech as minister, and heard from many people while she was there about the importance of reopening the court services, including from show chairman Dan Cugnet and others.
“I heard this had to be done, the court had to be reopened, and all the reasons why, so I started digging and revisiting the decision, and talking to the deputy minister of justice. She will tell you it became a priority for me, because it makes sense, and it was important for the community that contributes so much to the province,” said Eyre.