Bill C-53: Justice needs to be swifter

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials
Published On Mon Nov 08 2010.

An Ontario review of criminal trials found that the broadening of evidence rules, Charter of Rights and Freedoms motions, and a flurry of new laws from Parliament have resulted in significant delays and unnecessarily high court costs.

“The short, simple and efficient criminal trial of the 1970s has been replaced by the long, complex and often inefficient criminal trial of the 21st century,” stated former Superior Court chief justice Patrick LeSage and Justice Michael Code in their 2008 report.

Added to the new legal complexities are the multiple accused, dozens of lawyers and hundreds of witnesses involved in trials involving gangs, white-collar crime or terrorism-related charges. It is little wonder, then, that the wheels of justice grind so slowly that “mega-trials” can take years to complete and cost millions of dollars.

Simplifying and speeding up these mega-trials is the focus of the Conservative government’s latest piece of “tough on crime” legislation, introduced last week. But Bill C-53 is unusual for this government in two respects: it proposes a useful fix to a real problem, and it would expand judicial discretion — something, ironically, that the Conservatives would take away in other bills introduced during the so-called “justice week” in Parliament.

Bill C-53 seeks to streamline court procedures, reduce duplication and, most importantly, create case management judges who could impose deadlines, encourage the defence and prosecution to focus their submissions and reach agreements, determine admissibility of evidence, and rule quickly on pre-trial motions.

Amending the Criminal Code to allow for a case management judge was a key recommendation of the Code/LeSage report. In Bill C-53, it is refreshing to see Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government respond to what legal experts say will make a difference instead of crafting yet more flawed, American-style laws to capitalize on fears and false perceptions of crime.

The interests of both accused criminals and the public are best served when charges are dealt with quickly and efficiently. But any change to our justice system must be balanced. That is, just as an unwarranted defence motion should be quickly tossed out of court, so too should those of a runaway prosecution.

Only then will this legislation help meet the government’s stated commitment to ensure that justice is “effective, swift and true.”

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