Supreme Court ruling saves backlogged courts

The Supreme Court ruling said that unreasonable delay to hear court cases is no longer acceptable.
The Supreme Court ruling said that unreasonable delay to hear court cases is no longer acceptable. (Photo: The Canadian Press)

In a drastic reversal of a decision made this April, the Newfoundland government has decided at the last minute to keep the Harbour Grace court open — but not for the reasons you may think.

The court was to permanently close this Friday but the government has hastily scrapped those plans. They claim saving the court was possible due to new lease negotiations that would allow them to save $100,000 per year.

However, Justice Minister Andrew Parsons also admitted that due to a recent Supreme Court ruling, the government won’t be able to close Harbour Grace court, because "If that's going to lead to us breaching charter rights of individuals, now where we have the defined ceiling in cases, we can't allow that to happen.”

The Canadian Charter guarantees the right to be “tried within a reasonable time,” but according to the Supreme Court, courts have been too “complacent” when it comes to backlogs and delay.

It’s been widely reported that Canadian courts have a problem with backlog, which cause long delays in getting cases to trial but the Supreme Court has effectively put an end to that.

The recent ruling said that unreasonable delay to hear court cases is no longer acceptable. In the case, a man convicted of selling drugs in British Columbia was forced to wait over four years for his guilty verdict.

A court case will have to be finished within 18 months from the laying of charges to the conclusion of a trial. However, if there is a preliminary inquiry, meaning a judge looks at the evidence and determines if there is enough evidence for the person to stand trial, then the case can take up to a maximum of 30 months.

The case doesn’t just affect the closing of the Harbour Grace court, which would have seen the transfer of likely over 1600 cases to other courts, but it also means that other provinces won’t be able to close courts, because the closing of courts necessitates that court files are transferred to other courts already struggling with their own large case loads.

That would result in increased delay and more backlogs, and courts would fail to meet the Supreme Court deadline, which means some people could walk away from criminal charges.

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