Ontario Taking Steps to Improve Criminal Justice System

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Earlier this month, the Ministry of the Attorney General announced that the Ontario government is taking proactive steps to make the province’s criminal justice system “faster and fairer”, including improving the bail system, and reducing the time it takes for matters to get to trial.

Highlights of the Government’s Plan

The government intends to enhance public safety through expediting the resolution of criminal matters and creating more supports for vulnerable individuals who come into contact with the legal system.

The plan includes:

  • The appointment of 13 provincial court judges, 32 Crown attorneys, 16 duty counsel (i.e.- lawyers who are paid by Legal Aid), and 26 court staff;
  • The appointment of three prominent legal experts, including a former Chief Justice, former Deputy Attorney General, and a deputy Crown attorney to provide insights on modernizing Crown (i.e- prosecution) policies on bail;
  • Several measures intended to improve the bail system, including a province-wide expansion and enhancement of the existing Bail Verification and Supervision Program, making the program available at several court locations on weekends, and extending eligibility for the program. This is intended to facilitate successful release of low-risk individuals on bail, pending trial, and ensure that they are not behind bars until their trial is completed;
  • Launching a new “bail beds” program in five Ontario communities to provide supervised and safe housing for low-risk individuals;
  • Embedding duty counsel in six correctional facilities province-wide to allow for more effective bail hearings;
  • Developing a new, culturally sensitive program providing support to Indigenous individuals going through the bail process.

Quick Facts about Bail

  • The decision to grant or deny a person bail is complex and based on the specific circumstances of each individual matter;
  • Some key factors considered by Crown when recommending bail are: public safety (particularly the safety of any victims), attendance in court, rights of the accused, and public confidence in the justice system;
  • If an accused is not released on bail, they will be held in hail until their trial is heard. This can take many months, or even a year or more;
  • Denial of bail causes significant damage to the life and career of the accused, as well as the life of their family.

Delays in the Current Justice System

Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi has stated that:

Our criminal courts are bottlenecked, daily dockets are jammed and early trial dates are hard to come by…This is not good for anyone.

The province’s announcement follows the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in R.v. Jordan, which set time limits by which all matters must get to trial. In the wake of the Jordan decision a case may be dismissed due to delay if it takes more than 18 months to get to trial in provincial court, or 30 months in Superior Court. As we’ve previously blogged about, Ontario courts subsequently changed their practices with respect to any cases that entered the system after the SCC’s ruling.

Last month, a Superior Court judge in Ottawa halted a first-degree murder case because it had taken too long to get to trial.

It will be interesting to follow developments in the province’s plan, and to see what effect it has on the criminal justice system. We will continue to monitor the program as it progresses, and will blog as needed to provide updates.

To speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer about your rights, please contact Affleck & Barrison online or at 905-404-1947. Our firm and its predecessors have been protecting client rights since 1992. Our skilled lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting our client’s legal interests.  We are available 24 hours a day, and offer a variety of payment options, including Legal Aid. Whatever the nature of your offence, we can help.