Plan to address long court delays, judge shortage in Alberta revealed this week

Alberta Justice to unveil plan to deal with growing court crisis
WATCH: Alberta Justice to unveil plan to deal with growing court crisis

(UPDATE: Minister of Justice Kathleen Ganley will provide details on the steps the Alberta “government is taking to address justice system pressures” on Thursday, Oct. 20 at 12:20 p.m. in Calgary.)

Alberta’s justice minister promises a plan is in the works to address what some are calling a worsening crisis in the court system.

“We know Albertans are concerned about the court system and we, along with Alberta’s Crown Prosecution Service, have been working diligently to address the impacts the Jordan decision will have in Alberta,” Kathleen Ganley said Tuesday in a statement to Global News.

“We are also working to address the shortage of federally-appointed justices on the Court of Queen’s Bench. This is extremely concerning to our government,” she added.

READ MORE: 3 Alberta sex assault cases rescheduled for 2017 due to judge shortage

Ganley admits filling the vacancies on the Court of Queen’s Bench in Alberta won’t happen overnight.

Story continues below advertisement

The minister said she will be able to share further details later this week. In the meantime, she said she’s “confident from my discussions with the federal justice minister that Ottawa is aware of the severity of this issue and level of concern we have, and understand they will be moving quickly.”

READ MORE: Court doc says shortage leaves Alberta judges ‘without requisite time’ for cases

The “Jordan decision” is the landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling that set out a new framework for determining whether a criminal trial has been unreasonably delayed.

According to the decision, an unreasonable delay would be presumed should proceedings – from the date of charge to conclusion of a trial – exceed 18 months in provincial court or 30 months in superior court.

The R. vs. Jordan ruling also notes there can be exceptional circumstances in “particularly complex” cases that would allow for an exception.

READ MORE: Alberta murder case thrown out over trial delays; experts warn system on verge of collapse  

Experts point to a lack of judges as the root of the problem.

“In Calgary, long delays have been a problem for some time now,” defence lawyer Balfour Der said.

“The problem is largely that there isn’t court time available. While there is physical space in the court houses there just aren’t enough judges to occupy all of the rooms.”

Story continues below advertisement

Since the Jordan ruling was made last summer, already one first-degree murder case has been thrown out in Alberta.

READ MORE: Convicted killers in swarming death of Lukas Strasser-Hird make new bid for freedom 

Der has three Jordan applications pending; all of them on murder charges.

And he predicts more accused criminals will walk free before this crisis situation is fixed.

“Realistically there can be people charged with murder, people charged with shoplifting and everything in between, that will have their charges stayed. They will walk out of a jail because of delays,” Der said.

Der believes any measures put in place to deal with the fallout of the court backlog will be too late for many cases.

“There’s got to be a period, I foresee of at least a half-a-year going forward for a year, where there’s nothing that’s going to be able to do about those cases. There’s nothing that can be done to speed those cases up,” Der said. “It’s a possibility that any accused, regardless of the charge, will have their charges stayed because of delay.”