Criminal Courts Scramble to Abide By New Court Timelines

CBC News: Criminal Courts Scramble to Meet Supreme Court’s New Trial Timelines
By Alison Crawford, CBC News Posted: Feb 11, 2017 9:00 AM ET

The issue of timely trials is a pressing one in Canada, particularly since the Supreme Court’s decision in R v Jordan set new presumptive limits on how long a matter can be delayed before that delay is unreasonable.  Due to the urgent need to conduct and complete trials more quickly, particularly in Alberta, a number of suggestions have been made.

This article mentions a few of them, including amending the Criminal Code to include fewer mandatory minimum sentences. That work, along with initiatives already in place, such as summer trials and the Case Management Office, are valuable, and seem to be helping.

The greatest need however, is for more justice system resources.  Whether it is a lack of Judges, a hiring freeze on Court Clerks, or a shortage of Crown Prosecutors, the justice system is stretched to the limit in every area.  Only with an substantial infusion of money into the system to address these shortages can court delays truly be addressed.

Finally, it should also be mentioned that the article mentions removing the option of holding a preliminary inquiry as one of the proposals being considered.  Unfortunately, this would be a step back, not a step forward.  R v Jordan already contemplates longer court delays when preliminary inquiries are held, and so reducing their use would not affect that court ruling.  The reduction of preliminary inquiries will have a real effect on the ability of the Courts to streamline valuable Superior Court trial time, and will affect the ability of accused individuals to make full answer and defence.

From the Article:

Ottawa defence lawyer Michael Spratt expects some of his colleagues will howl at the idea but he personally feels there’s room for reforming prelims.

“Maybe not have hard and fast rules, but make sure that Crown counsel [and] judges that oversee sort of pre-trial meetings between Crown counsel and defence counsel can sit down and make reasonable admissions and do the streamlining on a case-by-case basis.”

But he says that’s not how things work at the moment in Ontario. Last month, Spratt says he received notice from the Crown that it wished to proceed without a preliminary inquiry on a complex first-degree murder case.

“I think we have to be very careful, because if the pendulum swings too far one way … the inevitable result of hurrying things up, of reducing procedural protections, it will result in wrongful convictions.”

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