The Estevan criminal court system is getting backed up, so changes to get more trial cases dealt with have begun to take effect.
The court will be cutting back on regular docket days in an effort to more efficiently handle the hefty trial schedule local lawyers have been trying to manoeuvre of late.
Starting in May, the criminal court schedule, which previously held proceedings each Monday and most Thursdays, was realigned to add a day devoted only to trials on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month.
In July the changes will go further, cutting criminal docket days to every Monday, leaving those Tuesdays and Thursdays open for exclusively trials.
Cheryl Terness, Estevan’s court clerk since 2006, said the full dockets often don’t leave enough time for trials to go ahead as scheduled.
“A lot of times we have a heavy docket and no times for trials,” she said. “We are so far behind for trial times. It’s gotten so much busier.”
Trials are often scheduled to begin before noon on docket days, but some lawyers have noted they have sat through docket court until 3:30 p.m. before their trials get started. The proceedings may then run late and a new clerk has had to be brought in to sit in on the matters that go past 5 o’clock.
“I used to go to Carlyle, but not anymore,” noted Terness. “Now the Weyburn clerk goes because it’s so busy in Estevan.”
Estevan’s resident judge, Karl Bazin, called a meeting in December 2011 that included the police, local lawyers and court staff. The general consensus was that this change would be a good idea, according to Terness, so they decided they would try it out. The schedule may not continue into 2013 depending on how these trial dates work.
Often trials don’t go ahead as planned, so if the four trials scheduled don’t proceed there will be a lot of open court time with nothing happening.
When the changes take full effect in July, the criminal docket days will be reduced to just two full days in some months, like November and August.
The courtroom is often swollen enough with two docket days devoted to Criminal Code charges each week. With the number of days cut in more than half, it will likely make for very full dockets each Monday.
“The second Monday of the month is half civil (matters), so technically, we could have two busy (criminal) dockets days (in one month),” added Terness.
Before, there were typically between six and eight full docket days each month. With two Tuesdays and three Thursdays devoted to trials, and four booked on each day, the trial schedule is hoped to be less backed up by the end of the year.
These changes will not impact how the Estevan Police Service and local RCMP detachment deal with prisoners. For individuals who have been arrested and require a show-cause hearing before they are released, they will have their matters dealt with on the days devoted solely to trials as well.
Prisoners will continue to be dealt with on Thursday and individuals who will be sentenced to time at the Impaired Driver Treatment Program will be sentenced on Thursdays because they are immediately placed in custody and IDTP admissions are on Fridays.