Toronto Star's VIew: Ottawa must address the high...
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Feb 13, 2017  |  Vote 0    0

Toronto Star's VIew: Ottawa must address the high cost of court delays

Since the Supreme Court set limits on how long a trial process can take, judges have had to drop charges in several horrific cases. The federal and provincial governments must work quickly to name new judges to deal with the backlog

OurWindsor.Ca

There’s no question something had to be done. In 2013-14 the median completion time of a case before superior courts was 514 days. And it was not unheard-of for criminal cases to carry on for upward of five years.

Justice was being denied — for both victims and accused — by being egregiously delayed.

To address this issue, the Supreme Court of Canada set a time limit last summer on how long the process should take from the laying of a criminal charge to the end of trial.

The court said only under “exceptional circumstances” should cases in provincial trial courts exceed 18 months, while superior court trials should not exceed 30 months.

The top court had little choice but to take action on the “culture of delay and complacency” it identified in the justice system, but as the ruling’s minority dissent predicted, the decision has added a new dimension to the court delay crisis.

In recent months, several people accused in horrific cases have been set free without a trial due to delayed proceedings. Government inaction on court delays now poses an imminent threat to public safety. Ottawa should take action immediately, starting with filling the judicial vacancies that legal experts have long argued are key obstacles to timely justice.

The latest appalling case is that of an Ottawa father accused of breaking his two-week-old baby’s ankles in September 2014. An Ontario Court justice stayed the charge in November after ruling the delay in moving the case forward violated the father’s constitutional right to a speedy trial.

For the same reason, in January, an Ottawa judge stayed a charge against a 15-year-old arrested in 2015 following allegations of sexual assault involving toddlers at a home daycare operated by his mother.

Moreover, since the Supreme Court decision, two accused murderers — one in Ontario and one in Alberta — were freed without trials because of delays.

Last October Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould made a welcome promise to announce judicial appointments in the “near future.” But since then there have been no appointments to the federal bench, although there are a remarkable 60 vacancies.

Happily, Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi has been more proactive. He recently announced that he would name 13 new provincial court judges and so far has appointed at least eight.

Ottawa should waste no time in following Ontario’s lead. With every new story of a serious charge stayed due to unconstitutional delays, the consequences of inaction become starker.

Toronto Star

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