Top court affirms decision to ensure timely trials
The Supreme Court of Canada has re-affirmed its groundbreaking decision on what constitutes an unreasonable time to await trial, by deciding a Newfoundland man accused in a drug trafficking case should not face trial because his case took too long to be heard.
The case involved a man named James Cody, who was charged in January, 2010, with trafficking marijuana and cocaine, as well as weapons and parole violation charges. He argued that his Charter rights were violated when he had to wait more than five years for what would have amounted to a five-day trial on those charges.
In Friday’s unanimous decision, the court said that the delay was unreasonable and a lower court’s decision to stay the proceedings should be restored.
“The delay in this case was unreasonable and therefore, C’s right under S. 11 (b) of the Charter was infringed,” the court said.
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 July, 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 they are unreasonable.
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 due in large measure 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.
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 argued the delay would have still been considered unreasonable — even before the Jordan decision.
The Supreme Court agreed, saying even after deducting all the delays initiated by the defence, the delay Cody faced was unreasonable.
“Under the Jordan framework, every actor in the justice system has a responsibility to ensure that criminal proceedings are carried out in a manner that is consistent with an accused person’s right to a trial within a reasonable time,” the court said, adding that the Jordan framework “must be followed” and “cannot be lightly discarded or overruled.”
CTV’s legal analyst Boris Bytensky called the Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday an “important reaffirmation” of the Jordan decision.
Bytensky says, while the Supreme Court was divided 5 to 4 in the Jordan decision, in this decision, they unanimously upheld the principles in Jordan, “and sent a clear signal that the culture change that they directed last July was to continue.”
‘Some pain’ expected: professor
University of Ottawa law professor Carissima Mathen told CTV’s Power Play Friday that the Cody decision shows the high court believes “the system needs a bit of a shock,” even if there will be “some pain.”
People like Nicole Nayel, the mother of Ottawa construction worker Fouad Nayel, have been left in anguish after their loved one’s accused murderers have walked free.
She told CTV News Channel Friday that she believes the system failed her family when the man accused of murdering her son was released from jail as the result of a four-year trial delay.
“Somebody accused of murdering my son, he’s walking away free,” she said. “That’s not right.”
“This is Canada here we’re talking about,” she added. “How would our politicians accept this?”
Nayel says the Crown is appealing the decision and she believes there is still hope that her son’s killer will face justice.
In April, the federal government met with provincial justice ministers to discuss proposals to speed up trials, including changes to the Criminal Code that would curtail the use of preliminary inquiries and reduce the number of crimes with mandatory minimum sentences, which can lead to more trials because plea bargains are not an option.
Another proposal is to put limits on bail hearings, which some say eat up too much court time.
Some provinces, including Alberta, have appointed more judges.
Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi issued a statement Friday saying the Cody decision “underscores the need for bold changes to make the criminal justice system faster and fairer.”
Naqvi said Ontario will address court delays in part through bail system reforms and also by appointing 13 new judges and hiring 74 new Crown attorneys and staff. He also said the province will work with the federal government in the areas of mandatory minimums and preliminary inquiries.
With files from The Canadian Press
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