Coming to a court near you …
In Winnipeg, it already includes photo radar speeding ticket cases.
In Ontario, it’s been drunk driving cases; one on Thursday is almost certainly the beginning of many more. It might be as many as 400 court matters in Alberta across a range of cases.
And it’s all a trickle-down from a July Supreme Court of Canada decision known as R v. Jordan.
Get ready to hear about it in your town.
The Manitoba cases involve Highway Traffic Act incidents where alleged speeders were tracked and issued summonses by mail. The problem is, when they decided to fight the cases, delays in the Manitoba court system meant it took more than a year to have their day in front of a judge.
The drunk driving case in Ontario? Almost 18 months between the charge and the court date.
The Jordan decision is a decision that adds to already-existing law centred around the right of anyone who has been charged with an offence within a reasonable amount of time. It’s something the Supreme Court has dealt with before, and people are probably used to hearing that a case has been dropped because it simply took too long to be heard. Memories fade, and for those who are charged, lives are put on hold.
The court has argued in the past that judges have to weigh the amount of time it takes for cases to get through the court system, and if it’s too long, they have no choice but to enter a stay of proceedings, meaning whoever’s been charged goes free.
This time, though, it’s different. After hearing a case involving a dial-a-dope-dealer case in British Columbia, five of nine of the court’s judges made the point that having judges determine the ins-and-outs of pretrial delay wasn’t working; provincial justice systems weren’t moving to actually solve the problem of justice system delays.
A big problem? Institutional delay, the slow-as-mud workings of the court system itself.
The majority on the court argued that’s wrong, saying “Canadians therefore rightly expect a system that can deliver quality justice in a reasonably efficient and timely manner.” And that system, they argued, “has lost its way.”
So the judges have put in place what’s called a presumptive test: for most cases in provincial court where the delay’s 18 months or more, the prosecution will have to prove delays aren’t their fault. In criminal cases in provincial Superior Courts or where there’s been a preliminary inquiry, the allowable delay will be 30 months.
If the delay can’t be explained, the charges have to be dropped.
Now, the chickens are starting to come home to roost.
And brace yourself for plenty more chickens.
There’s going to be a big bump in dismissed charges as provincial justice systems adapt to the new requirements.
A quick scan through court cases in the Atlantic region doesn’t find many cases that have been stayed yet — there’s a mention of the new rules in a Grand Bank, N.L., case, and in Nova Scotia, a trio of dismissals: two drug charges and an impaired driving charge. (The impaired charge would have been dismissed even under the old rules about delay — it took five years to get to court, and was finally overturned in July, almost nine years after charges were first laid.)
Chances are, that trickle of cases is only the thin edge of the wedge. The hope is, as everyone, including provincial governments, recognize their responsibilities toward ensuing due process, things will actually get faster and better.
But for the next year or so, don’t be surprised by the fact cases will be deemed to have gone on for just too long to be fair.
Russell Wangersky is TC Media’s Atlantic regional columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com Twitter: @Wangersky.
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