October 18th, 2016
RE: “Courts Scramble under New Rules on Trial Delays”
Defence counsel Daniel Brown hit the nail on the head when talking about the causes of trial delay: shortage of judges and crowns, lack of court space and delayed disclosure. The Ontario Crowns Attorneys Association has been raising the alarm on the under-resourcing of the Crown’s offices for many years. It has long been apparent that a crisis was inevitable. Anyone working in the criminal justice system could see ‘Jordan’ coming and yet the government did nothing with respect to this key reasons behind it. In fact, they’ve done quite the opposite. In the last few years, the government has effectively reduced the number of Assistant Crown Attorneys in trial offices across the province. We estimate that there are at least 6000 cases in Ontario which sit at the Supreme Court’s benchmark of 18 months. In trial offices across the province there are hundreds of matters set for trial which sit unassigned because there are no available prosecutors. This is truly a crisis and yet there has been no meaningful response from the government. The Attorney General’s most recent mandate letter doesn’t even address it.
It is also critical for the public to understand that the problems run much deeper than trial delay. They are also related to the ability to assess, prepare and prosecute cases properly. It is about full and fair service to victims, to accused persons, their counsel, the courts, police and the public. All deserve our full time and attention. The criminal prosecutors of this province are extremely dedicated public servants, deeply committed to the principles of public safety and the proper administration of criminal justice. But there are not enough of us. Criminal prosecutions have become increasingly complex and take much longer to prosecute. Yet the numbers of prosecutors in the trial offices has decreased. Increasingly we are concerned that we will be unable to comply with our professional obligations and duties to the public we serve. The Ministry of the Attorney General spokesperson says they are taking several steps to reduce delay. Certainly, where effective efficiencies can properly be made, we welcome them. However, those steps will be mere band-aids if the Government does not take meaningful, significant and immediate steps to increase the number of Assistant Crown Attorneys in Ontario.
Ontario Crown Attorneys Association