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How does the COVID-19 criminal trials shutdown affect Charter rights of those awaiting trial?

As the COVID-19 pandemic leads to the adjournment of criminal trials across Canada, criminal-defence lawyers say courts must act to effectively ameliorate the resulting delays and conditions of those in custody.

Over the past two weeks, courts across Canada have announced the adjournment of all non-urgent matters. Restrictions vary from province to province, but generally only proceedings involving an accused in custody – for bail hearings, preliminary inquiries, and youth criminal sentence reviews – are moving ahead.


Despite the fact courts are being shut down and trials cancelled, Ottawa criminal-defence lawyer Michael Spratt says he doubts that defendants will receive stays for unreasonable delays as the result of the COVID-19 court closures.

“This is exactly the type of situation that would accurately be described as a discrete event or an exceptional circumstance. We can’t get more exceptional than a global pandemic,” says Spratt.

But he adds that COVID-19 will create “cascading delays,” as trials set for the fall will need to be moved to make room for those being postponed right now. If there isn’t proper planning and preparation to deal with the delays, Spratt says defence lawyers will have room to argue for an unreasonable delay. The onus is on courts and Crowns ensure they do everything necessary to move files forward.

Read Aidan Macnab’s full artilce: Canadian Lawyer

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