Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Chronic Delays Undermine Public Faith in Justice System, Senate Report Warns

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Chronic Delays Undermine Public Faith in Justice System, Senate Report Warns

Article excerpt

Senate recommends steps to speed justice

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OTTAWA - The delays plaguing the justice system have become a crisis that could result in the release of thousands of criminals, say the senators behind a new report that explores how long it takes for cases to wind their way through the courts.

"It needs to be remedied immediately," Sen. George Baker said Friday in Ottawa as the standing Senate committee on legal and constitutional affairs released its interim report on a problem they say is eroding public confidence in the criminal justice system.

"We now have a crisis situation in this country in which you are going to see tens of thousands of persons who are guilty of serious crimes in this country released," said Baker, a Senate Liberal.

"They will not go to jail for what they're convicted of, simply because we have not made the proper changes in procedures relating to court operations."

The Supreme Court of Canada issued a potentially groundbreaking decision last month when it set out a new framework for determining whether a criminal trial has been unreasonably delayed, citing a "culture of complacency" for contributing to the problem.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms says someone charged with an offence has the right to have their case tried within a reasonable amount of time. In a 5-4 decision, the high court defined that period as 18 months for provincial courts and 30 months for superior courts.

The ruling came with a transitional measure for cases already in the system, although a dissenting minority opinion argued the new time limits could lead to thousands of prosecutions being tossed out.

Asked whether such a possibility could force the federal government to act more quickly on reducing delays, Conservative Sen. Denise Batters said: "I hope they do."

The 15-page report describes the complex factors behind delays, which it notes persist despite overall crime rates having been on the decline since the early 1990s.

"The innocent are left in limbo. The persons who committed crimes are left unprosecuted and Canadians are left frustrated. They are so frustrated that they condemn our court process," Baker said. …

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