Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Fairer and Quicker? Not Necessarily under Ottawa's Justice Reforms

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Fairer and Quicker? Not Necessarily under Ottawa's Justice Reforms

Article excerpt

Editorial Exchange: Fairer and quicker? Not necessarily under Ottawa's justice reforms

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An editorial from the Toronto Star, published April 2:

Justice delayed, goes the old saying, is justice denied. The Supreme Court of Canada spoke to that principle two years ago by setting strict limits on the time it should take to get a criminal trial. The court was trying to strengthen an accused person's right to fair and speedy justice.

Perversely, though, the federal government's long-awaited response to the decision may well have the opposite effect. As part of its wide-ranging package of reforms to the criminal justice system, it proposes a major change that would make the system less fair and in all likelihood won't make it any speedier, either.

The change in question involves doing away with almost all preliminary inquiries -- traditionally a key way to test the strength of the accusations against someone accused of a crime. In Bill C-75, unveiled late last week by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, they would be retained only for charges that carry a life sentence, such as murder. Some 87 per cent of "prelims" would be scrapped, she said.

This will take away a major opportunity for accused people (through their lawyers) to find out how strong the evidence is against them before they get to the stage of a full trial. The Canadian Bar Association, for one, warns it will weaken an important protection for those facing serious criminal charges. Doesn't sound like more fairness.

But will it speed things along and help to unclog the courts? In fact, there's no evidence of that, either. Prelims account for only about 3 per cent of court time, so even cutting that drastically won't accomplish much. More to the point, as Stephanie DiGiuseppe writes in the Star, they weed out weak cases, increasing the probability of resolving cases before they go to trial, and make trials more focused and therefore quicker.

Doing away with them is highly unlikely to promote the government's goal -- and the Supreme Court's command in the so-called Jordan case -- to provide accused people with justice in a timely manner. …

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