TORONTO – Charges stemming from a fatal Radiohead concert stage collapse in 2012 were stayed Tuesday when a judge ruled the justice system had failed in allowing the case to take far too long to come to trial.
The inordinate delays, Ontario court Judge Ann Nelson ruled, had violated the rights of those charged to a timely hearing.
“This case was a complex case that required more time than other cases in the system,” Nelson said in her 21-page judgment. “After allowing for all of the exceptional circumstances that were in play, this case still will have taken too long to complete.”
The Supreme Court of Canada, Nelson noted, had set a presumptive ceiling of 18 months for proceedings in provincial courts, and this case – which would have taken almost five years to complete if it had gone to a second trial – would have lasted three times longer than that limit.
The case arose June 16, 2012, just hours before the British band Radiohead were due to perform in the north end of Toronto when part of the massive stage structure crashed down. Scott Johnson, 33, a British drum technician, was killed. Three others were injured.
A year later, entertainment company Live Nation and Domenic Cugliari, an engineer, and contractor Optex Staging were charged with a total of 13 offences under provincial health and safety laws.
In the spring, with the case set to wrap up after 40 trial days scattered over 14 months, the presiding judge, Shaun Nakatsuru, declared he had lost jurisdiction given his appointment to a higher court. That decision led to a senior justice declaring a mistrial in May, and a new hearing was set to begin Monday and wrap in May.
However, lawyers for Live Nation and Cugliari argued before Nelson last month for a stay in light of the delays. The parties agreed her ruling would also apply to Optex.
“It is important to emphasize that timely justice is not just important to persons facing charges,” Nelson said in her ruling. “It is also important to our society at large.”
A stay is a remedy of last resort given that it signals a “failure on the part of the administration of justice,” Nelson said.
The judge acknowledged her ruling would have a “negative impact” on the victims of the stage collapse, especially on Johnson’s family.
“No doubt, this decision will be incomprehensible to Mr. Johnson’s family, who can justifiably complain that justice has not been done,” Nelson said.
Neither Johnson’s father, Ken Johnson, who works for a scaffolding safety association in the U.K., and has attended some of the previous hearings, nor Live Nation, which has called what happened a “tragic incident,” was immediately available to comment Monday. However, Live Nation’s lawyer acknowledged the ruling would be “brutal” for the drum technician’s relatives.
Crown lawyer, Dave McCaskill, said he was not surprised by the stay decision given the current state of Canadian law. He said it was too early to consider any appeal but said Nelson was correct in one assessment:
“The family and friends of Mr. Johnson will be quite discouraged and disappointed by this, and perhaps not comprehend why this has come to pass, and why there’s never been an adjudication on its merits,” McCaskill said.
The collapse, which the prosecution blamed on inadequate safety measures, prompted Radiohead to put off part of its 2012 European tour.