Canada: Justice ministers craft plan to unclog court systems

Justice ministers from across Canada have identified priority areas for major overhaul in a bid to end chronic court delays.

After a daylong emergency meeting in Gatineau, Que., the ministers mapped out a game plan to speed up the criminal justice system. Their review will target key areas for reform, including:

  • Mandatory minimum sentences.
  • Bail reforms.
  • Administration of justice offences.
  • Preliminary hearings.
  • Reclassification of offences.

Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould promised to expedite efforts to fill judicial vacancies as one way to address court delays. She said innovation and restorative justice will be used to speed up the system.

  • Defence lawyers support trial timelines
  • Courts scramble to meet new timelines

While no concrete measures were agreed on, Wilson-Raybould called the meeting “substantive” and a “success,” and said all ministers are committed to transformative change to decrease delays.

Ensuring public confidence

Chronic delays and backlogs took on a new urgency after the Supreme Court of Canada’s Jordan ruling last July. That landmark 5-4 judgment put timelines on an accused criminal’s right to a trial; within 18 months in provincial court or 30 months in a superior court.

Wilson-Raybould called that top court decision a “call to action.”

“Certainly nobody wants a situation where a serious charge is stayed because of [delay]. We all reiterated around the table that we will do everything we can to ensure public confidence in the criminal justice system,” she said.

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