I’ve pretty extensively laid out my opinion that BC’s court system is broken. It’s backlogged, it’s throwing out cases by the handful every so often simply because it can’t get to them in time, it’s underfunded, and it’s under-staffed. In short, exactly the sort of thing that the BC government should be focusing its attention on, and, naturally, exactly the sort of thing that doesn’t get nearly enough of this attention.
Just to bolster my case, here are a couple more examples of BC’s broken court system.
First, two impaired driving cases have been stayed in Victoria and Nanaimo because of unreasonable delay. Louise Dickson reports for the Victoria Times Colonist:
On Friday, defence lawyer Jeremy Carr applied to Victoria provincial court under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to have his client’s impaired driving charge stayed due to an unreasonable delay of 22 months. Carr argued his client’s right to a fair trial within a reasonable time had been violated.
“The delay has been caused because no court time or judges were available,” Carr said.
“It was all systemic delay.”
Aaron Reece was charged with impaired driving in December 2009. At his first court appearance, in January 2010, he pleaded not guilty and a trial was set for Dec. 2, 2010.
On that date, both Reece and the Crown were ready to proceed, but a preliminary inquiry was also scheduled that day and no other courtrooms were available. The matter was adjourned to Friday, 11 months after the first trial date.
Carr told the court his client had been unable to start a business and couldn’t take courses at Royal Roads University because he didn’t know if he would have a driver’s licence. Reece has suffered the stress of not knowing the outcome of the proceedings, said Carr.
“It’s also been a difficult time for him financially.”
Victoria provincial court Judge Sue Wishart stayed the charge against Reece, finding that he had suffered prejudice because of the 22-month delay.
“An accused person is presumed innocent and has the right to be cleared or convicted within a reasonable amount of time,” she said. “And society has a right to answers within a reasonable amount of time.”
Last week, Carr was also successful in having an impaired driving charge stayed after a delay of 20 months in Nanaimo provincial court.
“These are more examples of the crisis in our justice system and it is going to get a lot worse,” said MLA Leonard Krog, Opposition critic for the Attorney General’s Ministry. “The problem is that even if the province appointed the 17 judges we are short today, they’ve left it so long, there will still be a significant number of cases that will be dismissed. Whatever they do now will be too little, too late.”
Quite frankly, the thought that someone might have escaped punishment for a DUI doesn’t fill me with righteous anger. Indeed, I imagine that being stuck in legal wranglings for 22 months would be punishment enough. But this serves as another example of how, especially on more minor charges, simply delaying the proceedings long enough can actually be an effective legal strategy. Dickson lays out another case that might very well be stayed because of unreasonable delay:
Aneal Basi, an accused in the B.C. Rail matter, was stopped for impaired driving on Nov. 29, 2008. His first court appearance was on Jan. 15, 2009. The defence requested adjournments of the first two trial dates — March 10 and Sept. 9, 2010 — because the B.C. Rail matter was before the courts.
After the charges against Basi in the B.C. Rail matter were stayed, a new trial was set for July 20, this year, but the trial could not proceed because of an issue over the disclosure of documents.
The case was adjourned until Thursday, but two other cases were on the list for trial in that courtroom. The Crown chose to proceed with a two-day sexual assault trial because expert witnesses from Vancouver were waiting to testify. The Basi case was adjourned until Friday, when it was adjourned again due to lack of court time and resources. A new date is to be set Nov. 15.
“There’s cause for concern that if the matter is not set for trial quickly, there’s a real possibility the charge will be stayed for overly long delay,” said Crown prosecutor Nils Jensen.
Meanwhile: at the beginning of November, the Vancouver Police Department laid 163 charges against 60 people in connection with the Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver this summer. However, Surrey RCMP also pressed charges against one Karanvir Singh Saran for possession of stolen property, independent of the VPD’s Integrated Riot Investigatin Team, and lost their case due to insufficient evidence.
The reason I bring this up is to underscore the point that, however much the VPD might be taking heat for the slow pace of their riot-related charges, they aren’t the ones to blame for things taking so long. We already have a backlog in cases, and unless the government wants to expend the resources to fast-track these cases through the legal system, it’s going to take a long time to see this through, if the government wishes to do so.
Once again, I find myself quoting veteran journalist Harvey Oberfeld:
I did a whole series on this entitled Contempt For Court almost a decade ago. It won a Webster Award , but really the impression I have now is that the system has since become even worse, not improved.
And that’s where the real blame has to be placed: on the Court system: that makes it impossible to get cases scheduled or to go to trial until YEARS have passed; that allows defence lawyers to delay and delay cases, which I submit is not just for essential reasons, but part of strategy so witnesses forget, move or can no longer be found or even argue the justice delayed so long was justice denied, and successfully move for dismissal; that fails to provide enough judges to hear cases; that allows judges to sit cushy hours (why not night court sittings?) ; and. a sentencing protocol that is so lenient on even multiple repeat offenders, that first-time villains have absolutely nothing to fear in the way of any real punishment.
I also predict many of the cases will be thrown out because they took too long to get to court; others will be thrown out by judges who place the bar of proof so high that unless the VPD not only has video of the culprits doing their dastardly deeds, but also can produce written evidence of them signing their names to the debris itself, they’ll be found not guilty.
Depressing, but probably true.