So many cases, so lit­tle court time

Nova Sco­tia has the high­est pro­por­tion of in­mates who are in jails on re­mand wait­ing for a judge, a jury or an open court­room

Cape Breton Post - - EDITORIAL - Rus­sell Wanger­sky

Let’s talk about a rock and a hard place. Or, more to the point, how an over­stretched ju­di­ciary in the At­lantic re­gion is go­ing to deal with new guide­lines from the Supreme Court of Canada about the right to have a swift trial.

I’ve writ­ten be­fore about the risks for cases al­ready in the court sys­tem – how, across the At­lantic re­gion, cases where there is good, strong, com­pelling ev­i­dence of the guilt of peo­ple charged with of­fences are go­ing to be stayed, per­ma­nently halted, be­cause it’s taken too long to get them into the courts.

The stays – is­sued as a re­sult of time lim­its out­lined in a Supreme Court of Canada de­ci­sion known as R vs. Jor­dan – are cer­tainly go­ing to bring a group of cases to an abrupt end. But the im­pact doesn’t end there; it may well be that pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments across the coun­try are go­ing to have to spend more – and con­sid­er­ably en­large – their court in­fra­struc­ture to meet those time dead­lines.

A case in Nova Sco­tia’s Supreme Court il­lus­trates, in two dif­fer­ent ways, why that prob­lem is far from a one-time event.

The case is Robert Blois Col­pitts vs. Her Majesty the Queen (you can read about it here: http://bit.ly/2k2nLKJ ). Jus­tice Kevin Coady is right now in the mid­dle of hear­ing the case, which in­volves charges that Col­pitts was in­volved in ma­nip­u­lat­ing the pub­lic share price for a com­pany called Knowl­edge House, a Nova Sco­tian e-learn­ing busi­ness that col­lapsed in 2001. Charges weren’t laid un­til 2011 – in­vestors lost $31 mil­lion.

But while Knowl­edge House is a story in it­self, it’s one of the lat­est de­ci­sions in the case that points out the woes in our jus­tice sys­tem.

In a writ­ten de­ci­sion filed Jan. 24, Jus­tice Coady pointed out a re­cent study show­ing the growth in the num­ber of pris­on­ers sit­ting in jail wait­ing for a court date: “Nova Sco­tia has the high­est pro­por­tion of in­mates (68 per cent) who are in jails on re­mand wait­ing for a judge, a jury or an open court­room.” That was a 192 per cent in­crease in the num­ber of pris­on­ers wait­ing for trial.

Jus­tice Coady also pointed out the tre­men­dous in­sti­tu­tional de­lay in­volved in get­ting into court: “The wait time for tri­als in this court is lengthy. The ear­li­est date for a three-day trial is Dec. 27, 2017. The ear­li­est date for a two-week trial is Feb. 16, 2018. The re­cent Supreme Court of Canada de­ci­sion in R. vs. Jor­dan … has placed tre­men­dous pres­sure on this court to com­plete crim­i­nal tri­als within 30 months from charge”

Think about that: that means a year lost, 12 months out of 30, with­out even tak­ing into ac­count the other de­lays in lawyer avail­abil­ity, time taken for full dis­clo­sure, and ev­ery­thing else that has to be han­dled be­fore a trial.

Then, there’s the other side of the coin: the amount of time some tri­als take.

“If this were a rel­a­tively short trial this prob­lem would be less alarm­ing,” Coady wrote. “How­ever, we are 115 days into this trial with no in­di­ca­tion of when the ev­i­dence will be com­pleted. This state of affairs can­not go on for­ever. The time has come for me to con­trol this process which is presently chew­ing up mas­sive ju­di­cial re­sources and block­ing oth­ers from ac­cess­ing the jus­tice sys­tem.”

So, no court time, and lengthy tri­als.

On top of that, there is the sys­tem it­self. There is a tre­men­dous amount of lost time in the court sys­tem now, and judges reg­u­larly ex­press frus­tra­tion about it. When tri­als don’t go ahead, judges sit on their hands with no abil­ity to resched­ule cases. And when lawyers don’t ac­cu­rately es­ti­mate how long tri­als will run, there are more log­jams.

More courts, or more pros­e­cu­to­rial re­sources (i.e. more money) may end up be­ing the only so­lu­tion.

Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Me­dia’s At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@tc.tc — Twit­ter: @ Wanger­sky.

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