Award Costs, Reduce Sentences When Trials Delayed Unduly, Senators Say

June 14, 2017 Updated: June 14, 2017

OTTAWA—The federal government needs to establish a different consequence for cases that take too long to make their way through the courts to prevent those accused of sexual assault or murder from walking free without a trial, a Senate committee says.

“We’re saying for very serious cases, this is a shock to the conscience of the community,” said Sen. George Baker, a Senate Liberal and deputy chair of the standing Senate committee on legal and constitutional affairs.

“This brings the administration of justice into disrepute in the eyes of the Canadian public.”

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 new Senate committee report 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.

We’re talking about a pretty big ship here that is going to take some time to turn around.
— Sen. Bob Runciman

The Supreme Court ruling came with a transitional measure for cases already in the system, although a dissenting minority opinion argued the new time limits could lead to thousands of prosecutions being tossed out.

Conservative Sen. Bob Runciman said the committee is concerned that the problems will not be fixed quickly enough to prevent that from happening.

“We’re talking about a pretty big ship here that is going to take some time to turn around,” Runciman said.

The “culture of complacency” cited in the report isn’t solely a justice system problem, he added.

“I think you can apply that to governments as well with respect to the way they failed to respond to this over the decades, really,” Runciman said.

“So I think it’s going to take some time to do many of these changes and to change the culture within the system, but I think that if the government responds in a positive way, hopefully this is an option that can at least remove that, I think, very genuine concern about people walking free from serious, serious crimes.”

The senators recommend Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould refer the 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 the same day a Superior Court judge retires.

The Liberal government has said that in addition to appointing more judges, it is looking at sentencing reform, including eliminating some mandatory minimum penalties, and changes to bail, preliminary inquiries, and the reclassification of offences as other policy areas where they could find solutions.

From The Canadian Press