The trouble with blaming everyone for a problem is the strong possibility that no one will do anything about it. Let’s hope that’s not the case with the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent ruling on the slow pace of our justice system.
Last week, the court upheld a stay of proceedings against a Newfoundland man facing drug trafficking and weapons charges. The man had waited more than five years for a trial. The Supreme Court was standing by its 2016 ruling in a B.C. case known as R vs. Jordan. That ruling imposed strict trial deadlines on lower courts and told judges to manage court proceedings better.
Barrett Jordan was charged in 2008 after police said he was running a phone-in drug business, with door-to-door deliveries of cocaine and heroin to customers in Surrey and Langley. The case took more than four years to prosecute, which Jordan’s lawyers said violated his right to a timely trial. Both the Supreme Court of B.C. and the B.C. Court of Appeal rejected Jordan’s application for a stay of proceedings, but last summer, the SCOC granted the stay. It set standards for timely trial rights — 18 months to go to trial in provincial courts and 30 months in superior courts.
In last week’s ruling, Supreme Court justices were unanimous in calling for an end to a widespread culture of legal complacency they blame for the glacial pace of justice. “This appeal is yet another example of why change is necessary … every actor in the justice system has a responsibility to ensure that criminal proceedings are carried out in a manner that is consistent with an accused person’s right to a trial within a reasonable time,” they said.
“All justice system participants — defence counsel included — must now accept that many practices which were formerly commonplace or merely tolerated are no longer compatible with the right guaranteed by … the Charter,” they wrote.
“A proactive approach is required that prevents unnecessary delay by targeting its root causes. All participants in the criminal justice system share this responsibility.”
The justices pointed a particularly stern finger at trial judges: “We reiterate the important role trial judges play in curtailing unnecessary delay and ‘changing courtroom culture’ … trial judges should use their case-management powers to minimize delay.”
Admonishing trial judges will not likely be enough. A Senate committee has released a report calling for widespread reform of Canada’s legal system, raising the spectre of thousands of killers and sexual predators being turned loose if the system is not fixed. That might be an exaggeration, there’s no question, as one senator says, that inefficiencies “have damaged the public’s faith in the justice system and the time for the government to act is long overdue.”
It’s not solely the federal government’s responsibility — the problems start at the provincial level. Both levels of government need to ensure judicial vacancies are filled quickly and that the system is properly funded, staffed and managed.
It’s a complex problem, but it is not unsolvable — it takes five to 10 times longer to conduct a criminal trial in Canada than it does in Australia and the U.K., countries with judicial systems similar to ours.
There’s a perception that delayed justice works in favour of criminals, but everyone — the accused, victims and taxpayers — suffers when it takes years for cases to come to trial. That goes contrary to one of the fundamental principles of democracy.
Some aspects of the judicial process are necessarily adversarial, but in fixing our creaking justice system, it’s essential that all parties in the process be on the same side.
Source : http://www.timescolonist.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-unity-need-to-unclog-our-courts-1.20705227