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Pickton lawyers must be funded

Squabbling over financess should be resolved so the missing-women case can proceed

Times Colonist

Friday, December 27, 2002

The case of Robert Pickton, the Port Coquitlam pig farmer accused of the serial killing of 15 of the dozens of women who have disappeared from Vancouver's downtown east side over the past few years, is probably the most notorious murder case in B.C.'s history.

But so far the arguments with the provincial government about how and how much the defence lawyers are to be paid seem to have taken up more time than their dealing with the evidence to prepare for a preliminary hearing.

The defence team withdrew from the case in September and returned only after a 60-day funding deal was worked out with the government. Now, Pickton's lawyers are threatening to withdraw again because the deal was never finalized and there are no funds dedicated to cover his preliminary hearing scheduled to begin Jan. 13.

Defence counsel say they need face-to-face negotiations with government officials who have the authority to make the funding arrangements. But, they complain, the bureaucrats have gone home for the holidays. A meeting, apparently, isn't possible before Jan. 7, less than a week before evidence is to be presented at the preliminary hearing.

There are other problems besides finding a way to pay Pickton's lawyers. Although Crown prosecutors have passed over reams of material to the defence team, a lot still remains to be disclosed.

One lawyer complained in court that none of them had a DVD player to review videotaped witness statements, to which the judge replied tartly that they could pick one up for about $90.

Not all the causes of delay are that trivial. The amount of evidence taken by forensic experts from the pig farm alone is staggering. The preliminary hearing and subsequent trial that is expected will go on for months.

No defendant could afford the legal costs of such a protracted and complicated court case, which is why government funding is required. But unless the government and the defence team reach an agreement on this aspect of the case soon, Pickton may never get to trial.

There is precedent for staying charges against an accused person if he or she can't retain a lawyer with the funds made available. The defence team had applied in B.C. Supreme Court for a stay on these grounds this fall. The application was adjourned when the interim funding arrangement was made and the lawyers returned to the case.

The defence team and the government must not let this uncertainty hang over this case.

Robert Pickton must have his days in court.

 Copyright  2002 Times Colonist (Victoria)

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Updated: August 21, 2016