Minister Considers New Look at Legal System 

Minister Considers New Look at Legal System 
Posted by CN Staff on August 13, 2002 at 07:29:59 PT
By Tracey Tyler, Legal Affairs Reporter
Source: Toronto Star 
Canada's justice minister says it may be time to rethink the country's approach to crime and punishment, with a view to reducing prosecutions of minor crimes, like marijuana possession, and easing pressures on legal aid.Martin Cauchon also told the Canadian Bar Association yesterday that while the current legal aid system doesn't provide adequate access to the courts for many, he wouldn't say the system is in crisis. He said he would prefer looking at reforming the criminal law as a possible solution to legal aid woes before spending more money on the problem.
As part of a national review of the justice system, Cauchon said Canadians should ask if they are too quick to resort to criminal charges as a means of correcting society's ills.Cauchon told the bar association's annual meeting he will chair a discussion during a meeting of provincial and territorial justice ministers next month on whether the time has come for a justice system review.It would be the first since Jean Chrétien was justice minister 20 years ago.While the traditional wisdom has been that deterring crime depends largely on the severity of punishment facing the person who gets caught, it's time to reassess whether precious resources should continue to be poured into prosecuting relatively minor criminal charges, he said yesterday.Exercising a measure of restraint and reducing prosecution could be an important tool for diffusing mounting pressures on legal aid systems, Cauchon said."Canadian society has experienced profound change during the past few decades, and I believe it is appropriate to ask ourselves whether we are satisfied with the overall functioning of our criminal justice system," he said in a speech at the Hilton London. "For example, as a society we must question our motivation when we devote so many of our precious legal resources to the prosecution of cannabis offences."Do these prosecutions improve the safety of our communities?"Please don't misunderstand me — Canada has no plans to legalize marijuana," he said. "I believe endorsing marijuana use might inflict harm on society and lead to greater problems."But I believe it's time for an open discussion about modernizing the criminal justice system in this regard."The timing of Cauchon's comments was interesting for two reasons. They came one day after an Ipsos-Reid poll showed a majority of Canadians believe the country's courts are not handing out severe enough sentences.Cauchon's remarks also come a day after the bar association announced it is scouting around for a test case to press its claim that Canadians have a constitutional right to legal aid.The legal aid issue dominated a question-and-answer session. Lawyers tried to pin him down on whether he's prepared to provide legal aid funding for civil and family law cases. They also wanted to know whether he agrees legal aid is a constitutionally entrenched right.Cauchon did not answer directly. But he said he would be putting the issue on the agenda at next month's meeting. "I don't really feel, honestly, that we have the access (to legal aid) we would like to have," he said. "We recognize that there are mounting pressures on the legal aid system which, if left unchecked, could compromise the very integrity of Canada's justice system."He declined however to label those pressures "a crisis." He also stopped short of committing legal aid funding in family and civil law disputes. Note: Questions effort spent on minor marijuana cases. Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)Author: Tracey Tyler, Legal Affairs ReporterPublished: August 13, 2002Copyright: 2002 The Toronto StarWebsite: lettertoed Related Articles & Web Site:Canadian Links Plans for Legal Pot There's Smoke, There's Disagreement There's a Funny Smell in the Air
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