Supreme Court of Canada reinforces limits on court delays

The Supreme Court of Canada has reiterated its insistence on time limits for criminal cases.

The Supreme Court of Canada recently issued an important ruling concerning court delays in criminal trials. Last year the court ruled in R v. Cody that cases must be finished within a certain timeframe or else they risked being thrown out due to unreasonable delays. As the Globe and Mail reports, the court recently issued another ruling that clarifies the principles set down in R v. Cody. That more recent ruling involved an alleged drug trafficking ring between British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador which was delayed by 36.5 months and showed why time limits were necessary.

Setting strict time limits

In R v. Cody the Supreme Court set down strict time limits from when a defendant is charged with a crime to when the case is completed. In that case the court ruled that for lower court cases the time limit is 18 months while for Superior Court cases it is 30 months. The court did allow that there should be a transition period for courts to adapt to the new time limits, but it provided few details to trial judges about how to deal with that transition. That led to concerns that serious cases, including for homicide, could be stayed because of unconstitutional delays.

In the more recent case, the Supreme Court addressed those concerns by acknowledging that the seriousness of the offence could be used to determine the reasonableness of a delay in cases that were still being processed when the court gave its decision in R v. Cody. For cases that postdate R. v Jordan, however, the seriousness of the offence cannot be used as a reason for justifying an unconstitutional court delay.

Why time limits are necessary

Concerns were raised that R v. Cody would cause chaos in the justice system as courts struggled to adapt to the new time limits. However, as CBC News reports, while there has been an uptick in the number of applications for stays, most of that uptick is for impaired driving charges and not for more serious offences like murder and rape. Far from causing chaos, the justice system seems to be doing a decent job of adapting to the new rules.

Court delays are a serious issue which the Supreme Court felt had gone unaddressed for too long. The recent case involving the alleged drug trafficking ring between B.C. and Newfoundland, which resulted in a five-year delay for a five-day trial, was, in the words of the Supreme Court, "yet another example of why change is necessary." Those types of delays raise important concerns about access to justice and the protection of defendants' rights.

Criminal defence help

Anybody who is facing a criminal charge needs to contact a defence lawyer immediately. The criminal justice system can be intimidating and complex to deal with, which is why accused individuals need somebody representing them who knows how to uphold their rights and can handle their case in the most efficient and effective way possible.