N.B. court delays meant 14 charges were stayed in 2022: justice minister

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New Brunswick court delays meant 14 charges were stayed in 2022
WATCH: In 2022, 14 charges were stayed due to delays in the New Brunswick justice system. In order to address the issue, this year’s budget includes funding to increase the number of Crown prosecutors by 50 per cent. Silas Brown reports. – Apr 14, 2023

New Brunswick’s justice minister Ted Flemming says that 14 charges were stayed last year due to unreasonable delays in the criminal justice system.

During his appearance at the legislature’s estimates committee, Flemming said that the number might seem small considering there were around 25,000 charges laid last year, but argues that any number of stays due to delay is unacceptable.

“The public, victims of crime, the families, should expect justice to be done and not be thwarted because of an unreasonable delay,” he said.

In order to address backlogs in the criminal justice system, this year’s budget includes $5.6 million to increase the number of Crown prosecutors in the province by almost 50 per cent. There are currently 62 Crowns in the province and the new funding will allow the hiring of another 30.

Flemming said that without the new positions, the number of stayed charges based on delays would likely rise.

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“The demands on the system are growing and without doing what we’re doing here, the concern to me was that 14 number was going to grow,” he said.

In 2016 a Supreme Court of Canada ruling set the ceiling for criminal trials at 18 months in provincial court and 30 months in the Court of King’s Bench. That benchmark is what’s known as the Jordan Principle and means that charges must be resolved in a timely manner once a plea is entered or else they are stayed.

The Crown Prosecutors Association has been raising concerns over a lack of resources after a sexual assault case was stayed in Moncton in February. A few days later, 25 charges against a Fredericton car dealer were stayed.

Shara Munn, the president of the CPA, told Global News in March that public prosecutors simply didn’t have the resources to keep up with the caseload.

“As prosecutors, that’s sort of worst-case scenario for us,” she said.

“What we do isn’t about wins and losses, what it is about is seeking justice.”

Liberal justice critic Rob McKee said he hoped the additional funding will help the province move through the backlog.

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“It doesn’t benefit anyone, the complainants, the victims for sure don’t get justice — all parties involved. An accused person looking for an acquittal doesn’t get that either, so there’s really closure for no one,” he said.

“Access to justice is denied in that case.”

During his appearance at the estimates committee, Flemming provided the average time for charges to be resolved last year. For provincial court matters where the accused is in custody, the average is three months from plea to trial. For those not in custody, the average is eight months.

For indictments handled by the Court of King’s Bench, the average timeline was 12 months.

While the averages are all within the limits set out by the Jordan Principle, Flemming said that the maximum is not the goal.

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