The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs
The time to act on court delays is now: Senate committee
August 12, 2016
Ottawa - The federal government should immediately fill vacant judicial seats in order to reduce court delays hobbling the criminal justice system in Canada, a Senate committee has recommended.
In an interim report released Friday called Delaying Justice is Denying Justice: An urgent need to address lengthy court delays in Canada, the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs gave an overview of the committee’s progress in its study of court delays.
In response to the urgent need to reduce court delays, the report offers practical and achievable remedies to restore movement to a system paralyzed by complacency.
The report makes four recommendations:
- That the federal government work with provinces, territories and the judiciary to improve case management practices and to reduce the number of unnecessary court appearances.
- That the federal government take immediate steps to ensure a more effective appointment system is put in place so that judicial vacancies are promptly filled. The committee notes that many judicial appointments go unfilled for lengthy periods of time.
- That the federal government work with the provinces and territories to explore the implementation of restorative justice programs, alternative courts and shadow courts.
- The committee recommends investing in technology to modernize and increase the efficiency of criminal proceedings, and to reduce the warehousing of accused people in remand centres.
Failure to act will lead to more criminals on our streets, traumatized victims and to a loss of public confidence in the justice system.
While senators finalized this interim report, a recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling set time limits for court cases beyond which a delay is presumed to be unreasonable. Senators note the court’s stinging criticism of the status quo.
The committee will release a comprehensive report on court delays in 2017. However, the urgency of the situation cries out for solutions that can be implemented quickly. The recommendations contained in this interim report could meaningfully improve the administration of justice in Canada.
- In 2013-14, the median time between the laying of a charge to the case’s final disposition was 123 days in Canada’s provincial courts. In the country’s superior courts, the median completion time was 514 days.
- In the July 2016 case of R. v. Jordan, the Supreme Court of Canada placed limits on court delays. If the delay exceeds 30 months in superior courts, or 18 months in provincial courts, it will be considered unreasonable and charges will be stayed unless the Crown can show “exceptional circumstances.”
- A Quebec police operation against alleged Hells Angels members called SharQc resulted in serious criminal charges laid against 156 people. Over 30 accused people were released due to delays and five men facing murder charges were freed after the Crown did not promptly turn over evidence.
“Our committee has seen the catastrophic consequences of court delays. The mishandling of the SharQc Hells Angels mega-trials prevented three dozen people — charged with serious criminal offences including murder and drug trafficking — from being tried on the merits of the case against them. Complainants and witnesses spend months or even years waiting for their day in court. Canadians are losing faith in the justice system.”
- Senator Bob Runciman, Chair of the committee
“Delays in the justice system are now beyond unacceptable. Accused people in Canada have the right to be tried in a reasonable time and yet criminal proceedings remain slow, creaking, lumbering ordeals. The Supreme Court recognized this alarming fact and called for an end to what the majority called a ‘culture of complacency.’ Our committee’s recommendations are an important step toward a more effective justice system.”
- Senator George Baker,P.C., Deputy Chair of the committee
“After months, even years of trials, when Canadians see that people are being released without proof of guilt or innocence, they lose confidence in the judicial system. The situation is becoming more critical and the Government must act quickly to implement the report’s recommendations.”
— Senator Claude Carignan, P.C., Leader of the Opposition in the Senate
- Click to read a copy of the committee’s interim report, Delaying Justice is Denying Justice: An urgent need to address lengthy court delays in Canada.
- Keep up with the committee and watch testimony from the hearings through the committee’s homepage.
- The Senate is on Twitter @SenateCA; follow the committee using the hashtag #LCJC.
For more information, please contact:
Committees Liaison Officer, Communications
Senate of Canada