Nova Scotia to save $482,000 per year in closing satellite courthouses, but move rapped

Seven of 12 satellite courthouses in rural Nova Scotia will soon close, saving the province about half a million dollars a year.

Court matters will not be heard in Barrington, Comeauville, Guysborough, Port Hood, Lunenburg, Baddeck and Liverpool, under measures announced in Thursday’s provincial budget.

“They are satellite courts so they are rented spaces (with) very infrequent sittings — three, four times a month on average,” said Peter McLaughlin, a Department of Justice spokesman.

The closures will occur over the next six months and will save the province $482,000 annually, he said.

Court hearings at the satellite courthouses involved summary and criminal offences. The cases will now be heard at the nearest justice centres.

Cases from Barrington will move to either Shelburne or Yarmouth; cases from Baddeck to Sydney; cases from Liverpool and Lunenburg to Bridgewater; Port Hood to Port Hawkesbury; and Guysborough to either Antigonish or Port Hawkesbury, McLaughlin said Friday.

Court staff travelled from larger centres to the satellite locations, so no job losses will occur as a result of the change, he said.

“We knew we could improve access to justice if we made the changes that had judges and our court staff in the court, hearing court, rather than on the road. … There is a potential there to actually have cases heard more quickly,” McLaughlin said.

But Halifax defence lawyer Mike Taylor said that closure of the satellite courts will create hardship.

“It is an access to justice issue,” said Taylor, past president of the Nova Scotia Criminal Lawyers’ Association.

“ A lot of people who come to the criminal courts are … marginalized people, in a lot of cases, and they don’t have a lot of funds,” Taylor said Friday.

“Some people just don’t have cars. They don’t have any means of transportation, so to close these satellite courts and say you have to travel maybe an hour and a half or two hours to get to your court puts an additional burden on these people, on top of what they are already facing.”

Halifax and Dartmouth night court operations are also being merged, with night court matters all being docketed in Halifax provincial court. That transition will take several months.

The Justice of the Peace Centre in Dartmouth will cut daytime hours. Two full-time positions will be lost, but the employees are to be offered equivalent positions within court services.

Click here to see original article written by Clare Mellor, Staff Reporter, Herald News

April 13, 2015