Supreme Court of Canada ruling could clarify trial delay rules

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The Supreme Court of Canada will rule today on a case involving an accused criminal’s right to a timely trial, and could help clarify rules about trail delay deadlines it set in a groundbreaking decision last summer.

The country’s top court will rule in the case of James Cody, an accused drug trafficker from Newfoundland and Labrador who argued his Charter rights were violated when he had to wait five years for what would have amounted to a five-day trial.

Cody was charged with trafficking marijuana and cocaine, possession of a prohibited weapon and breach of probation. But the charges were stayed because the judge decided Cody’s right to a fair and speedy trial had been violated.

The Crown appealed and the case went to Newfoundland and Labrador’s Court of Appeal, which considered the 2016 Supreme Court decision of R. v. Jordan.

That ruling noted a system-wide problem with trial delays, and set out a new framework for determining whether a criminal trial has been unreasonably delayed.

It said most cases in Superior Court should reach trial within 30 months from the time a person is arrested. In lower courts of justice, cases should go to trial within 18 months, it said.

But the court added there needed to be a transitional measure, for cases already in the system.

The Newfoundland Court of Appeal considered the Jordan ruling, but in a 2-1 decision, they decided the delays in Cody’s case were mostly due to Cody’s own defence team. The court set aside the lower court’s stay of proceedings and sent the case back for trial.

Cody’s defence appealed to the Supreme Court, which heard arguments in April. Friday’s decision could offer more guidance on how to account for defence-caused delays

The Crown argued to the court that if the prosecutors in Cody’s case had known that the Jordan decision was coming and that it would change the way the courts handle delays, they would have proceeded differently.

Cody’s defence team, meanwhile, argued the delay would have still been considered unreasonable — even before the Jordan decision.

Friday’s decision could help clarify whether the SCC’s trial deadlines apply in cases involving unusual or complex circumstances, such as Cody’s.

Since the Jordan decision, several suspects have seen their cases tossed out for taking too long to reach trial.

Several provincial and territorial justice ministers have since held emergency meetings with federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to discuss ways to tackle court delays.

Wilson-Raybould has filled more than 50 judicial vacancies since the Jordan decision to help accelerate the system, but several vacancies still remain.

Earlier this week, the Senate committee on legal and constitutional affairs said trial judges needed to have more tools at their disposal to deal with cases that take too long to get to trial, beyond simply staying the proceedings.

They said allowing those accused of serious crimes such as sexual assault or murder to go free on technicalities brings the justice system into disrepute.

The committee recommended in its final report using reduced sentences or awarding court costs as other solutions beyond proceeding stays. It also called for more video conferencing to cut down on unnecessary court appearances, among 50 other recommendations.

With files from The Canadian Press

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Supreme Court of Canada ruling could clarify trial delay rules

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