Shortage of Justices of the Peace (JP’s) in Ontario

Update:see previous posts May 18, 2010 Bill 108, the Streamlining of Administration of Provincial Offences Act, 1997, May 17, 2010 1 Billion Dollars in Unpaid Traffic Tickets (Ontario), December 31, 2008 Auditor General of Ontario’s 2008 Annual Report: Court Backlogs Getting Worse and Tickets Have Dramatically Increased in the Ontario Cities of: Ottawa (155%), York (95%) and Toronto (78%)

Ontario’s shortage of Justices of the Peace isn’t a new or recent phenomenon. Municipalities have complained for years that there has been a shortage of Justices of the Peace (or “JP’s”) that cover their respective areas.

Many Municipalities actually rely upon the income generated from the prosecution of offences within their courts.

See this 2009 story from the Simcoe Reformer:

In 2006, Norfolk was forced to shut its provincial offences court for 10 days due to the shortage.

Norfolk County’s traffic court continues to face the threat of closure due to a shortage of Justices of the Peace, a municipal official has warned.

“Because of the shortage, there may be court closures on short term notice,” said Danette LeCompte, Norfolk’s supervisor of Provincial Offences Act administration.

“It’s been an ongoing problem for years. For whatever reason, (the province) is not hiring as many as are needed.”

Right now, five JPs serve courthouses in the tri-county area of Brant, Haldimand, and Norfolk, although one is on sick leave.

Seven are needed.

On some days, JPs are brought in from other jurisdictions.

The POA court in Brantford was cancelled one day in July after a JP called in sick and a replacement couldn’t be found, and two dates in September have already been scratched.

This story can be found in The Beacon Herald:

More than half the people who fight a ticket and lose in Perth County’s Provincial Offences Court never pay the fine.

Only 46% of people who take a Part 1 offence like a speeding ticket to court and lose pay the fine, according to county statistics.

“I find that amazing,” said a flabbergasted Coun. Bob McTavish at Perth County council’s meeting Thursday. “In the olden days, they would have slapped them in jail.”

Renato Pullia, director of corporate services and treasurer, said the county is looking at options to recover more of the outstanding fines.

“From a global basis, about 18% of the overall fines that come in end up going to collections,” he said.

The county currently collects about 15.7% of those outstanding fines — at the low end of the provincial benchmark of 15-21%. A collection agency contracted by the county gets 32% of the take.

Pullia said the collection rate could rise to as much as 22% if $1.5 million to $2 million in uncollectable fines are written off by the county.

Some of those fines go back as far as 1985. In some cases, the person has died or the business has gone under.

The province downloaded responsibility for provincial offences to municipalities in 2000.

“Across the province, outstanding fines are well over $1 billion,” Pullia said.

Perth County is part of a group working with the Ministry of the Attorney General on ways municipalities can increase collection of fines.

This story can be found in The Sudbury Star:

The province’s inability to staff Provincial Offences Act courts with Justices of the Peace could be costing Greater Sudbury revenue, a city staff report says.

Responsibility for prosecuting provincial offences was transferred to municipalities years ago. The fines from these courts were to comprise a new revenue stream.

In recent years, however, a shortage of Justices of the Peace has forced the city to close courts from time to time, something that’s happening with increasing frequency, Caroline Hallsworth, the city’s executive director of administrative services, says.

Annually, the local provincial offences court handles thousands charges under various regulatory statutes, such as the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, the Highway Traffic Act and the Liquor Licence Act.

During the summer, one court date in July and three in August were cancelled. Two court dates in each of November and December of this year have also been cancelled.

While matters scheduled to be heard on the cancelled dates are adjourned to a new date, with each adjournment or rescheduling, it becomes more likely a matter may be dis-missed due to delays.

“To some extent, the cancellations also impact on municipal revenues as the four court dates cancelled in July and August had some $43,000 in fines associated with those matters,” Hallsworth said.

Other municipalities, including Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay, Espanola, Cochrane and Timmins, are facing similar shortages, so the practice of borrowing Justices of the Peace from other jurisdictions is no longer feasible.

The northeast has four vacancies: two in Timmins and two in Sault Ste. Marie. Two others are on medical leave for an undetermined amount of time.

On Wednesday, Greater Sudbury city council will be asked to join a growing list of councils across Ontario to petition Chris Bentley, Attorney General of Ontario to appoint more Justices of the Peace.

The Auditor General of Ontario, Jim McCarter made the following observations in his 2008 Annual Report:

(see Chapter 3 Ministry of the Attorney General – Section 3.07 Court Services):

The Federal Government appoints and renumerates judges in the Superior Court of Justice (the “SCJ”) and the Court of Appeal for Ontario (the “CAO”); the Province of Ontario appoints and renumerates judges and justices of the peace in the Ontario Court of Justice (the “OCJ”). We refer to judges and justices of the peace collectively as the Judiciary.

As of March, 2008 there were about 285 judges and 345 justices of the peace in the OCJ, 300 judges in the SCJ and 24 judges in the CAO.

Justices of the Peace work primarily in criminal law matters, including presiding over bail hearings and issuing summonses or search warrants. In addition, collectively, they spend about 45% of their time presiding in municipal courts adjudicating provincial offences, such as those under the Highway Traffic Act and municipal bylaw infractions, such as those under the Liquor Licence Act.

The Court Services Division (Division) of the Ministry of the Attorney General supports the operators of the court system through over 225 courthouses and office facilities and 3,000 court support staff.

Since municipalities across Ontario began to administer and prosecute POA offences, their revenue have increased, as well as the number of tickets issued.

Background:

Bill 108, the Streamlining of Administration of Provincial Offences Act, 1997 was passed by the Ontario Legislature on June 9, 1998. The Bill received Royal Assent on June 11, 1998

The Municipalities stood to gain after the Ontario Provincial Goverment passed Bill 108, the Streamlining of Administration of Provincial Offences Act, 1997

Between the years 1999 – 2002, the Ontario Government transferred enforcement of provincial offences to municipalities throughout Ontario. This meant that municipalities now have the responsibility to collect on the fines, from the tickets that were issued within their municipality. Most of the fines transferred as a result of this change are for offences committed under the Highway Traffic Act, which falls under the POA.

Municipalities benefit from this transfer of power as they retain net revenues from fines collected from tickets and prosecutions. Municipalities collect gross fine revenue and remit a portion to the Province for the Victim Fine Surcharge and a share of the Province’s continued operating and administrative costs for the POA. Municipalities delivering services under the POA have the authority to use remaining revenues not only to support the POA process, but also to address local priorities.

Bill 108 does not change law enforcement procedures or adjudication of provincial offences. The Province also retains the responsibility for setting standards and monitoring the justice system. The Government introduced an amendment to ensure that services in French would be maintained at provincial standards during and after the transfer of  POA responsibilities.

Since this responsibility was transferred, municipalities have been required to pay the costs for administering courts, prosecutions, and the collection of fines, and to reimburse the province for its associated costs, including the cost of Justices of the Peace who preside over municipally administered courts, and the cost of the municipalities’ use of the ICON system for tracking offences and payments. Under transfer agreements established with these municipalities, the Ministry sets performance standards for the conduct of prosecutions, for the administration of the courts, and for the provision of court support services.

Update: November, 2010 – Many ignore fine payments

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