Summary of the Senate Committee Final Report: “Delaying Justice is Denying Justice”
On Wednesday, June 14, 2017, in the wake of the Jordan Supreme Court decision, the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs issued its much-anticipated final report on court delays. The Senate Committee made 50 recommendations, after hearing 138 witnesses (including lawyers, legal and mental health experts, former and current judges, victims and police), on how to “alleviate the strain on Canada’s court system.”
Four main recommendations were made to the Federal Government:
- Work with the provincial and territorial governments and their respective judiciaries to improve case management practices and reduce unnecessary court appearances.
- Take steps to improve the judicial appointment system and fill vacancies.
- Work with the provincial and territorial governments to implement restorative justice programs, alternative courts and shadow courts.
- Invest in technology to modernize and improve the efficiency of criminal proceedings.
In addition to these four recommendations, the Committee also suggested that to reduce delays in the criminal justice system, the Federal Government must consider filling all vacant judicial positions.
The Senate Committee also identified the consequences of delays. The impact is perceptible on the victims and witnesses, the accused persons and the justice system in general.
In this Report, consequences of delays are identified:
- The impact on victims and witnesses
Many victims were heard by the Committee and presented their views regarding the delays; the stress involved and how it can lead to revictimization.
- The impact on accused persons and the problem of bail and remand
Accused persons remain innocent until proven guilty. The stress of long trials is significant. Due to delays, accused persons may suffer loss of employment and spend considerable amounts of money on legal fees. Even if proven innocent, they will not receive compensation for their losses.
- The impact on the justice system
Long delays are undermining the confidence Canadians have in the criminal justice system. Delays also have an impact on the quality and reliability of evidence, as memories become less clear over time.
There is an urgent need to reduce court delays. Therefore, this Report offers solutions to improve the system.
The Report stated that efforts have been made across the country to reduce criminal trial delays. The Committee highlighted the alternatives to traditional criminal justice such as restorative justice programs and alternative courts.
- Restorative Justice
The Nova Scotia Restorative Justice Program is very efficient. It provides the opportunity for accused persons to focus on the results of their actions and participate in achieving justice in the community by offering support to victims. It offers a meeting place for victims and offenders. It is available for youths between 12 and 17 years of age, however, a pilot project is currently being offered for adults.
- Alternative Courts
Some people may be guilty of committing a crime, but their rehabilitation and reintegration can be successful only if they receive appropriate treatment. Alternative courts reduce recidivism rates, which result in reduced court delays.
This Report explores ideas for courthouse re-organization to offer services to accused persons (self-represented or not), offenders and victims in one location. The courthouse in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan has a service which focuses on crime prevention. To identify victims at risk, the team organized a service to localize social and health services, educational organizations and police.
The Committee and witnesses, discussed ideas for amendments to case management and procedures in order to reduce delays, i.e. having some matters heard by court officials rather than judges.
The Committee also discussed the issue of impaired driving (drugs and alcohol) and how to reduce its demands on the system. Legislation introduced in British Columbia has reduced court demands. The police now have the jurisdiction to determine whether cases should be processed under the Criminal Code or under provincial legislation, where less court resources are required.
Finally, the Committee discussed how implementing new technology could improve the efficiency of the justice system. Modernized electronic systems have the potential to reduce delays in court proceedings.
Read the Full Report