OTTAWA – A Senate committee is urging the Liberal government to come up with a different consequence for cases that take too long to make their way through the courts.
The committee says it brings the justice system into disrepute when such cases end in a stay of proceedings, especially when the allegations involve murder or sexual assault.
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The Supreme Court’s groundbreaking Jordan decision last summer set out a new framework for determining whether a criminal trial has been unreasonably delayed to the point where it has violated an accused’s charter rights.
The high court cited a “culture of complacency” as part of the problem, and imposed a ceiling of 30 months for a case to make its way through superior courts, and 18 months for provincial courts.
The report from the Senate legal committee, released on Wednesday morning in Ottawa, points out that a stay of proceedings is currently the only remedy for a trial that goes on too long, and recommends reduced sentences or the awarding of costs as other solutions.
The senators recommend Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould refer these proposed changes to the Supreme Court to determine their constitutionality.
The report also recommends tackling judicial delays in a number of other ways, including by having the federal government fill a judicial vacancy on the same day a Superior Court judge retires. There’s no reason the appointment process can’t begin as soon as a judge confirms they plan to retire, said committee chair Sen. Bob Runciman.
At the moment, he noted, the justice system relies on a “snail-like appointment process for Superior Court judges.”
Runciman noted that a lack of robust case management remains “the most significant factor” in court delays across Canada.
During the committee’s travels across the country, he said, they visited a courtroom in Alberta where the defence asked for proceedings to be adjourned. When the Crown complained the matter had already been adjourned 19 times, the judge said “we’ll give you one more.” Another case in Quebec had been adjourned 37 times.
“Legislative solutions can take you only so far,” said the senator. “It’s the legal culture that needs to change. Delay is regarded as the norm.”
Committee member Sen. George Baker called Wednesday’s report critically important.
“I’ve been involved in a lot of committees … this committee report is perhaps the most important one that I have dealt with,” Baker said.
The committee traveled to B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia, interviewing 39 judges and an equal number of Crown attorneys, defence lawyers, police officers and academics.
The committee itself includes three senators who are also lawyers, said Baker, two of whom are professors of law. It also includes one former judge and three former police officers.
-With files from Global News
© 2017 The Canadian Press