Charge volumes climb as 11 regional Justices announce plans to retire

Outside a courtroom at the Sarnia Courthouse. (BlackburnNews file photo)

The County of Lambton is trying its best to alleviate a backlog of court cases as charge volumes trend higher and judicial resources decrease with nearly a dozen Justices planning to retire.

In a report to county council’s Committee P.M. members, the Court Services Department said 2,878 charges were received during the first quarter of 2022, which represents 26 per cent of 2021 charge totals.

Corporate Services General Manager Stephane Thiffeault said they’re trying to deal with as many ticketable offences as possible.

“We do have a mild backlog in terms of the Part I’s that we’re responsible for,” said Thiffeault. “Roughly about 600 files and through the court administration, which reports to Mr. Palarchio and a Justice of the Peace, they’ve been scheduling them and sort of packing them into the courts with the intent of resolving as many as possible.”

The county department is responsible for processing fine payments, enforcement of unpaid fines, setting trials, recording court proceedings, generating transcripts, and other administrative duties resulting from charges laid by various enforcement agencies within Lambton County.

“There’s a lot of resolutions and typically on terms that perhaps would not have been offered in previous days and then there is, what I would call, a second look at the files in terms of the prospects of convictions to keep them on the docket,” Thiffeault said.

While the department said all enforcement agencies recorded higher volumes year over year, in first quarter comparisons, Sarnia police had the highest number of charges laid, recording a 42 per cent increase over last year’s final totals.

In the first quarter of 2022, 1,993 cases went before the court during regular scheduled sessions.

Prosecution services for Part I and II matters are provided by the county’s legal services and clerk’s departments and prosecution for Part III matters are currently provided by the Ministry of the Attorney General.

But Thiffeault said the county is in the process of having those matters downloaded to them.

“The Part III’s are the information summons and we’re in active discussions with the Crown on those. Part of the discussion with the Crown on those matters is really not to assume the Crown’s backlog on those, given that we don’t really have much resources.”

Thiffeault said the backlog on Part III cases is much more significant, at around 1,600 cases.

The county has also been notified that 11 regional Justices of the Peace will retire over the summer months.

“With the significant number of Justices of the Peace retiring we are experiencing court date cancellations from mid-August right through to the end of the year and the impact on our case backlog is yet to be known,” he said.

Despite the challenges, Thiffeault said they’re “taking a good hard look at addressing the matters as quickly as possible.”