Scrapping preliminary hearings ‘not going to solve’ problem of court delays

Scrapping preliminary hearings ‘not going to solve’ problem of court delays

It was the speech that felt like a slap in the face to criminal defence lawyers.

Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, speaking to the Empire Club of Canada in Toronto last month, said he had written to his federal counterpart asking for reforms to the Criminal Code that would greatly limit the use of preliminary hearings as a way to speed up the justice system.

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Defence lawyers point out the actual percentage may be even lower because the data do not distinguish between hearings that are scheduled and held versus scheduled, but not held — for example, an accused person showing up for the first day of the preliminary hearing, but who ends up pleading guilty instead.

Of the 9,179 completed adult criminal cases that involved a preliminary inquiry in 2014-2015, about 80 per cent were completed before the 30-month ceiling in Superior Court that was set by the Supreme Court in Jordan.

“Preliminary hearings are a low-hanging fruit that provides a political solution and the appearance of action,” said Ottawa defence lawyer Michael Spratt. “(Naqvi’s) letter was a political letter, it’s why it was released publicly. I have no doubt that Minister Naqvi has ways to communicate discretely his concerns with (Wilson-Raybould), but he didn’t do that this time.

“If he really wanted to write to the federal government to provide real solutions, he could have asked for speedier action on reforms to minimum sentences, to restore elements of conditional sentences. He could have urged the federal government to decriminalize marijuana while we wait for this long-anticipated legislation.”

Read Jacques Gallant’s full story: Toronto Star