Senate report addresses lengthy court delays, cites Saskatchewan as positive example

Saskatchewan considered an innovator when it comes to wait times in Canadian courts
WATCH ABOVE: Court wait times are under the microscope in a new Senate report. They vary right across the country with the highest in the east and the lowest in the west. And as Brandon Gonez reports, Saskatchewan seems to be leading the charge.

Saskatchewan is being used as a positive example for reducing court trial delays in a recent Senate report.

The report, Delaying Justice is Denying Justice: An urgent need to address lengthy court delays in Canada is calling on the federal government to address court delays.

The report exposed the median completion time for cases in provincial courts in 2013-14 across Canada was 123 days. In Canada’s superior courts, it was even longer at 514 days.

“It’s a difficult thing to be accused of a crime and having that hanging over your head for a period of time,” Regina-based defence lawyer, Brad Smith said.

Smith said court delays can be harmful to some of his clients, but could also prove beneficial to others.

“Partly because witnesses don’t remember things and because various things can go wrong as time progresses,” he added.

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“You could have a situation then where people who are convicted of crimes and should be convicted of crimes are going free because they have been deemed to have unreasonable court delays,” Saskatchewan senator Denise Batters said in an interview Tuesday on Global News Morning.

But according to Batters, Saskatchewan fairs better than most other provinces.

“Numbers for 2013-14 is 71 days as compared to Quebec who is the worst in Canada, close to 240 days,” Batters explained.

READ MORE: Five Hells Angels members freed, trial cut short as judge scolds Crown

The report highlighted an example in Quebec from 2009 where more than 30 alleged Hells Angels members, including some facing murder charges, were freed due to court delays.

Earlier in the summer, the Supreme Court of Canada set new rules for provincial court trials that they do not exceed 18 months unless a preliminary inquiry occurs allowing for an extension to 30 months.

READ MORE: Supreme court creates new timely-trial framework

Saskatchewan is used as a positive example in the report for its use of “shadow courts” – the practice of overbooking trial time to avoid empty courtrooms.

Other recommendations in the report include:

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  1. That the federal government work with provinces, territories and the judiciary to improve case management practices and to reduce the number of unnecessary court appearances.
  2. That the federal government take immediate steps to ensure a more effective appointment system is put in place so that judicial vacancies are promptly filled. The committee notes that many judicial appointments go unfilled for lengthy periods of time.
  3. That the federal government work with the provinces and territories to explore the implementation of restorative justice programs, alternative courts and shadow courts.
  4. The committee recommends investing in technology to modernize and increase the efficiency of criminal proceedings, and to reduce the warehousing of accused people in remand centres.

The Senate is expected to table a final report in 2017.