Imagine being a victim of fraud, finding out who the alleged culprits are, gearing up for a trial, and then hearing that the charges have been stayed because there was no judge available for the trial to take place. That is exactly what happened in a recent case wherein Superior Court Justice Bonnie Croll had to stay the charges for the 12-week trial due in Toronto because no judge is available until January to preside over the trial.
Are Heavy Caseloads Burdening In Our Justice System?
The decision came after finding out that the trial won’t be able to commence in a timely manner because there was simply no judge available for proceedings to take place. In fact, there are 16 judicial vacancies at present time. In a related news, there is a possibility that other criminal cases that are lined up in the federal justice system may be dismissed unless more judges are appointed soon.
Office of the chief justice of the Superior Court senior counsel Norrie Nathanson shared that there are significant concerns about the courts’ ability to keep up with the cases, more so in view of the 2016 landmark decision in the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision regarding R v. Jordan which says that strict timelines must be implemented in the processing of criminal cases, 30 months in Superior Court and 18 months in provincial court.
It should be noted that judicial vacancies are a real challenge more so for courts that are the size of Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice. It takes a real effort from the judicial advisory committees and the Minister of Justice to ensure that appointments are made right after a judicial vacancy is known.
Regarding the Jordan case, it states that proceedings should follow the timeframe as to not breach a person’s right to be tried within a reasonable time. Failure to do so would be a violation of a person’s constitutional right unless the court can prove that the delay was caused by exceptional reasons.
Why the Charges Were Stayed
Croll shared in her ruling that courts must be properly resourced with judges and the charges are to be stayed because the resources needed for the trial to take place cannot be provided by the court. The delay that the case was facing was considered unreasonable.
As many as 28 judicial vacancies might be what’s in store for September if no appointments are made soon. That is a vacancy of about 10%. It doesn’t help that the federal process for appointing new judges is known to be slow.
For a new judge to be appointed, the process starts with the judicial advisory committee that will screen applicants. Applicants will be appointed after a federal cabinet meeting and after the governor-general or her designate signs the appointment.
What we can learn from this is that it is now more important to file charges as soon as possible to ensure that your case will be designated to a judge as soon as possible. Another thing to note is that a stay doesn’t mean that charges are dropped, but they will have to be refiled within a year to try to get to trial. This is different to the dropping of charges wherein the accused party can’t be brought to court for the same case again.
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