SURREY – The province has announced a $24.3 million expansion to Surrey provincial court that will include three new courtrooms and two hearing rooms to reduce backlogs.
"There’s no question this is an extremely busy courthouse," Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton observed at a press conference Thursday (March 19) outside its front doors. "There’s no question we will need additional staff," she added.
Surrey’s courthouse, opened in 1991 when the city’s population was 60 per cent of what it is today, and has the largest criminal caseload in the province. More than 15,000 provincial cases were initiated in the 2013-2014 fiscal year, and there were more than 92,000 provincial court appearances.
Roughly 80 per cent of new cases opened in Surrey during that time were criminal court cases.
Anton made the expansion commitment at Surrey’s courthouse joined by Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services Amrik Virk and Mayor Linda Hepner. Construction is set to begin early next year, and scheduled for completion by late 2017.
The justice minister also announced a recommendation made by the Surrey Criminal Justice Task Force to create an Integrated Services Network (ISN) zeroing in on domestic violence, mental health and substance misuse, and prolific offenders.
If implemented, there would be a single location for offices of justice, health and social services involved in the co-delivery of programs and services.
The stated aim of ISN is to ease access for clients with complex needs by providing a single location, making it easier for front-line workers to see clients who are traditionally hard to reach. Hepner said it will help address the root causes of crime.
"This means that cases involving mental health, health and family matters, will be referred to timely support services. Ultimately, this will allow for a greater chance of success in reintegrating offenders into positive roles in society," she said.
While the task force’s report identified the former city hall building as a possible site for the ISN, it was mentioned that the intended client base doesn’t typically reside in that neighbourhood. Instead, the report noted clients tend to live in the Whalley and Guildford area, and perhaps those areas would be more appropriate.
Absent from Thursday’s announcement was the installment of a community court, a concept that has been bandied about in Surrey for many years.
But Hepner suggested the integration of services will create a positive response.
Harry Bains, NDP MLA for Surrey-Newton, found Thursday’s announcement underwhelming.
"They talked about five (courtrooms) some time ago and now they’re talking about three, so I think it is a step back from what they originally announced," Bains said.
"Yes, this will expand the capacity to the courthouse, help the Crown prosecutors to proceed with their cases, but there’s nothing in this announcement that will deal with the crime in Surrey."