The Drumheller court house has seen some recent changes that some believe could make the justice doled in the community less reflective.
After a distinguished career, that extended into seven more years working as a supernumerary, Judge Gordon Clozza retired from the bench. There are some in the community who would like to see a local judge back in a Drumheller court room.
Since his initial retirement, Drumheller is a part of the Calgary Circuit Court Ststem, and has no specific judge assigned to Drumheller. This means there is a rotation of different judges each sitting date.
Drumheller detachment RCMP Staff Sergeant Art Hopkins says while it appears there is nothing that can be done about the situation, he thinks it is healthy to have a judge living in the community where he works.
“I have found from my own experience that a judge who lives in the same community will sentence people according to the values of that community,” said Hopkins. “There is an expectation of justice to be done in the community.”
He says for example, when a judge in a larger centre sees a great number of break and enter charges cross their desk, the relevance may be lost, when compared with a smaller community where such a crime has a different impact.
He says he has seen cases where a local judge has placed a person in custody in one community, only to see the person released at a different venue, and return to the first community, and continue their legal problems.
“The judges become more knowledgeable of the communities they preside over and levy justice to,” said Hopkins.
While the change is relatively new, Hopkins says so far he has not seen a significant difference in the sentencing.
“I have been monitoring the decisions and the sentences since as of late, and they have been reasonably good sentences,” he said.
Colin Kloot is a defense attorney in Drumheller, and he also prosecutes Drumheller bylaw matters and federal matters, primarily drug offenses. While he agrees there is not much they can do to change the present situation, he too feels a local presence on the bench is good for the community.
“In my mind, and I think most of us feel it is far better for us to have a local judge who understands the local flavour,” he said.
“We enjoyed having a local judge here because he understood… and was able to disassociated himself from any personal concerns, and always treated those people fairly, but knowing the background of each individual, and when appropriate, it assisted those people.”
He says one argument contrary to appointing a local judge is sentencing should be consistent across the board, regardless of the venue.
“From that point of view, taking into account the interests of the community is one of the principles of sentencing, and the courts deem this as the community at large as opposed to the local community. When you are talking about the community, you are talking about the whole of Alberta or the whole of Canada, as apposed to the local community, and that is not always right. You take into account the personal circumstances of the community at all times, you should take into account their community.”
Drumheller is unique to many surrounding communities because of the Drumheller institution.
“It makes a difference, especially on the drug stuff,” he said.
The issue of drugs being brought into the institution may be viewed as more serious to the community where many of its residents work.
He says it will take local counsel some time to get used to having a different judge on each sitting date.
“Now we get whoever comes out of the chute, and it is not that any of them are incompetent…you just don’t know which way these guys are going to go, and they have no feel for the local community…local counsel has to get educated to that again,” he said.