Judge Who Took Nine Months to Reach Verdict Did Not Violate the Accused’s Right to Timely Trial

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

We have frequently blogged about access to justice issues, including the government’s attempts to make Ontario’s criminal law system “faster and fairer”, and the right to timely trial.

A commonly criticized issue within the criminal law system is the length of time it sometimes takes a case to get to trial.  There have been situations in which Ontario judges have halted cases involving serious criminal charges because they have taken too long to get to trial, however, this is not always the case. A lengthy sexual abuse case in Manitoba recently made the news, when a court decided that the trial process, which ultimately took well over 3.5 years, did not violate the accused’s right to a timely trial.

What Happened?

The accused in question was charged with sexually abusing one of his children. The trial itself lasted 33 months, and the judge took 9 months following the end of the trial to reach a guilty verdict.

The trial occurred in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in R.v. Jordan, in which the Court established that any trial lasting more than 30 months can be presumed to violate the accused person’s constitutional right to trial within a reasonable period, and that the charges must be thrown out (unless the prosecution could point to exceptional circumstances).

In this case, Chief Justice Glenn Joyal of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench ultimately found that the time that a judge takes to arrive at a decision of guilty or not guilty should not be included in considering whether the length of a trial falls within the parameters established by Jordan. Otherwise, a judge making a decision following a short trial would have a long time to render their verdict, whereas a judge making a decision following a long trial would have a shorter period of time to make their final decision. Moreover, trials would have to be finished well within the time limits established by Jordan in order to provide enough time for a verdict. Lastly, including a judge’s decision-making time in the Jordan time limits would have an impact on that judge’s independence, which would violate a key feature of our legal system.

Chief Justice Joyal stated that only where a judge took so much time to render a verdict that the delay was “shocking, inordinate and unconscionable” that the judge will be found to have violated the accused’s right to a trial within a reasonable period. In this case, the Chief Justice found that the 9 month delay “would not create, in a reasonable person with the full knowledge of the justice system, the sort of shock or sense of alarm that would cause that reasonable person to conclude that the nine-month judicial delay is significantly in excess of acceptable standards”.

Judicial Independence a Factor

Because of how the principle of judicial independence is interpreted by courts, the original trial judge in this case could not be asked why it had taken 9 months to reach a verdict, and could not be questioned whether the delay was due to the complexity of the case, the judge’s workload, or other personal reasons, such as illness.

The accused’s lawyer has indicated that she will appeal Chief Justice Joyal’s decision after sentencing. She argued that judicial delay is not just a matter of length of time it takes a judge to render a decision, but also their general availability.

The president of Manitoba’s Criminal Lawyers’ Association also disagreed with the Chief Justice’s findings in this case, stating:

The judges are independent but they have to comply with the law, too. [Chief Justice Joyal] is forgetting the admonition of Jordan – hard-cap limits which are meant to shock the system out of a ‘culture of complacency.’

We will continue to follow developments in this and other access to justice issues and will blog about them regularly.

In the meantime, if you have questions about your rights, contact one of the experienced Oshawa criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. Our skilled lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting our client’s legal interests. Whatever the nature of your offence, we can help.