Supreme Court Rules that 18 Month Time Limits Also Apply to Youth Cases

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

The highest court in Canada has ruled that the 18-month time limit required to bring an accused individual to justice, set out in the decision of R. v. Jordan, also applies to cases involving youth. 

According to Statistics Canada, there were 2,767 criminal cases that took longer than 12 months to complete in youth court in 2017-2018 (approximately 10% of all cases).  However, these numbers do not account for whether any of the delays were the result of actions on behalf of the defence.

WHAT HAPPENED?

In the case of R. v. K.J.M, a 15-year-old Alberta teen was charged with various offences arising out of fight that occurred during a house party in 2015.  K.J.M. was accused of stabbing a teen with a box cutter while intoxicated.  At his trial, K.J.M.  was found guilty of aggravated assault and possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose almost 19 months after charges were first laid against him.  By the time his trial concluded in November 2016, K.J.M was nearly 17-years-old. 

Although the trial judge found that the total delay exceeded the 18-month ceiling, K.J.M.’s Charter application was dismissed as “it was not the clearest of cases where a stay should be granted”.  This decision was appealed to the Court of Appeal where it was again dismissed by the court and each of the three judges took a different approach in their reasons as to whether the 18-month ceiling applies to youth cases.

WHAT IS THE PRESUMPTIVE 18-MONTH CEILING?

We have previously blogged about the 2016 R. v. Jordan decision wherein the Supreme Court ruled that unreasonable delays in criminal cases violate an individual’s guaranteed rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Supreme Court specifically spelled out the rule that court proceedings could not exceed 18 months for provincial court cases and 30 months for more serious cases heard before the Superior Court.

However, the Jordan decision did not specifically address whether these timelines apply to individuals under the age of 18 who fall under the youth court system. 

THE SUPREME COURT RULING IN R. v. K.J.M.

In a 5-4 decision, the majority of the Supreme Court concluded that there is no evidence that the youth criminal justice system is suffering from the same delays as the adult system that would justify setting a lower ceiling for youth cases. 

Justice Michael Moldaver, on behalf of the majority, wrote:

Unless and until it can be shown that Jordan is failing to adequately serve Canada’s youth and society’s broader interest in seeing youth matters tried expeditiously, there is in my view no need to consider, much less implement, a lower constitutional ceiling for youth matters.

The majority of judges of the Supreme Court found that although K.J.M.’s trial exceeded the 18-month timeline, some of the delays were caused by the defence and therefore dismissed his appeal.

Three judges of the Supreme Court offered a dissenting opinion and concluded that a 15-month time limit would be appropriate for cases of young offenders.  Writing on behalf of the dissenting judges, Justice Rosie Abella and Justice Russell Brown wrote:

Doing so gives effect to Parliament’s intention in enacting a separate youth criminal justice system, to Canada’s international commitments, to the recognition in pre-Jordan case law that youth proceedings must be expeditious, and to the consideration that led to setting the presumptive ceilings for adults in Jordan.  … Just as the court in Jordan determined the appropriate ceiling for adult proceedings, a separate analysis is required for youth proceedings.

Graham Johnson, K.J.M.’s lawyer, is of the opinion that timely trials profoundly impact young people and delays can impact the prospect of rehabilitation. Johnson argued that a 12-month limitation for youth court proceedings would be more appropriate.  Mr. Johnson told CBC News:

In Canada, children as young as 12 can be charged with a criminal offence, and if it takes 18 months to get the case to court and there’s a guilty verdict, you’re then punishing a 14-year-old for what the 12-year-old did.  And there’s a certain, in my view, injustice in that, given how quickly children develop, mature and can change their behaviour.

Mary Birdsell, executive director of the organization Justice For Children and Youth, who was an intervenor in this case and advocated for lower time limits for youth court proceedings was disappointed with the Supreme Court ruling.  Ms. Birdsell stated:

Speedy justice is really important for young people because their sense of time is different, because their development is ongoing, and because you want to capture the moments for addressing underlying consequences in meaningful ways.

If you are a youth that has been charged with a crime, or are the parent of a young person that has been charged with a crime, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947.  We maintain a 24-hour call service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.