More than 20 per cent of criminal cases in Ottawa are at risk of breaching Supreme Court limits on “unreasonable delay” two years after the Jordan decision set new standards for swift justice.

Provincial statistics show that, at the end of March, 1,073 cases were in the judicial system for 15 months or more at the Ottawa courthouse.

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Ottawa criminal lawyer Michael Spratt said the Jordan decision has provided motivation for both Crown attorneys and defence counsel to move cases more quickly towards trial. Bail hearings, disclosure materials and pre-trial conferences, he said, are all handled with a greater sense of urgency.

The courts are also keen to set early trial dates, but that can be counter-productive, he said. “I think what we have seen is a rush to set trial dates to meet the Jordan deadlines. But that push in the early stage of proceedings can sometimes make matters take longer,” Spratt said.

Often, he said, delays at the front end of a criminal case can be advantageous since it affords time for negotiations and reflection.

“If the court insists that trial dates be set at a very early stage, it means that more matters are set for trial that otherwise might have been resolved given a little bit of time,” Spratt said. “That can lead to more delays.”

The problem with more cases being set for trial, he said, is that there’s a finite number of available judges and courtrooms. “It’s a supply and demand issue: Court time and judicial time are very scarce resources,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s necessarily a resource problem: We could always use more courtrooms and more space, but the criminal justice infrastructure will expand to fill any vacuum. So more resources won’t necessarily lead to a reduction.”

Spratt suggested the only way to cut judicial wait times in Ottawa was to divert minor criminal offences toward alternative dispute settlement mechanisms.

“I think the best way to deal with delay issues is to make sure that we have enough addiction treatment, enough mental heath services. I think that will allow us to use the Criminal Code less to solve social problems and more to keep the community safe and to deal with serious crime.”

Read Andrew Duffy’s full article: Ottawa Citizen

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