Lack of funding benefits offenders

People who are charged with criminal offences are entitled to be tried within a reasonable time, as required by section 11(b) of the Charter. If they aren’t, those alleged offenders can be ‘let off’ without standing trial, a situation that should have everyone concerned (and angry at their elected officials...and not at the courts).

To start, it is unfair and unreasonable for a person to have pending criminal charges for years - many, many years.

Imagine that you are charged with a criminal offence: it can happen to anyone. Maybe you forgot to pay for all your groceries when you left the supermarket and are charged with theft. Or, maybe you had a few drinks and, rather than calling a cab, you tried to sleep it off in your car. While sleeping, a police officer finds you in the driver seat and you’re charged with drunk driving.

Consider that if your criminal matter is pending for several years, you aren’t able to plan for family vacations or work trips, as a criminal record can prevent travel. Also, you’ll likely avoid making big purchases because, if convicted, you might go to jail or lose your job. In essence, you’re in a constant state of stress and limbo.

One of the leading cases on this issue is R. v. Askov, [1990] 2 S.C.R. 1199. In that case, three people were charged with conspiracy to commit extortion, among other related offences. They were charged in late 1983 and the trial was eventually scheduled to occur in late 1986. The delay was not attributable to any misconduct on the part of the Crown (I.e. not their fault). Instead, much of the delay was attributable to institutional problems, attributable to lack of funding. In the end, the charges against the individuals were stayed (dismissed) because the trial had been unreasonably delayed. After the case, thousands of other alleged offenders were ‘let off’ in Ontario for the same reason.

Alleged offenders are not just ‘let off’ for delay in Ontario – it happens in B.C., too.

In R. v. Hammer, 2011 BCPC 0234, Associate Chief Judge Brecknell granted a stay of proceedings to a defendant who was found guilty (in Prince George) of possessing cocaine for the purpose of trafficking. From the date that the individual was charged until the conclusion of the trial, 42.5 months had passed, 21.5 months were attributable to limitations on institutional resources (or, in other words, to lack of funding).

This isn’t in isolated incident.

Associate Chief Judge Brecknell noted that 59% of the pending adult criminal cases in B.C. are already over the completion guideline/standard that the court has set for itself. So, don’t be surprised if, in the near future, several alleged offenders are ‘let off’ without standing trial.

Some people blame the judges for failing in get trials heard within a reasonable time. But, the only party to blame is the Provincial Government.

Judges do not control the availability of court facilities/rooms and they do not control staffing resources such as sheriffs or clerks. The Provincial Government control these matters. The Government is also responsible for the appointment of a sufficient number of judges to hear cases within a reasonable time. For your information, the B.C. provincial court is the only provincial court in Canada that has fewer judges in 2011 than it did in 2005.

It is totally unacceptable that those who are alleged to have committed serious offences are never bought to trial/justice simply because of unduly long delays attributable to budget cuts and funding issues.

Now you know.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought. 

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About the Author

Jeff Zilkowsky is a lawyer practicing at MacLean Law in the Lower Mainland and in Kelowna, and focuses his practice on family law and litigation.  

In his column, Jeff provides information about current legal events or points of interest or concern relating to the law. 

The information contained in Jeff’s column should not be used or relied upon as legal advice.

Comments are always appreciated and encouraged, so don’t hesitate to email Jeff at [email protected]

Visit Jeff’s website at www.jeffzilkowsky.com or visit the website of MacLean Law.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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