Ontario to place prosecutors in police station

TheGlobeandMail.com – Ntional – Ontario to place prosecutors in police stations: Idea one of several to streamline lengthy trials recommended in new report
November 28, 2008. KIRK MAKIN

Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney-General will combat a plague of sprawling mega-trials by installing on-site prosecutors in police stations and creating superjudges to deal with pretrial motions early and swiftly.

“We are going to have our major-case Crowns located right in with the police, so that we have a close-working collaborative relationship with the police very early on in these major cases,” Attorney-General Chris Bentley said in an interview yesterday.

He said he has already begun to implement some of the 41 recommendations in a keenly awaited report on how to stop the spread of costly, runaway criminal trials – scheduled for release today and obtained by The Globe and Mail yesterday.

They recommendations focus on winnowing and honing the number of charges that are laid and streamlining trials as well as preventing from meandering on for years.

The authors – former Ontario Superior Court chief justice Patrick LeSage and University of Toronto law professor Michael Code, a star of the criminal defence bar for 30 years – concluded that putting prosecutors in police stations will help police achieve “a manageable size and focus for a successful prosecution.”

Mr. Bentley agreed: “They will benefit from legal advice very early on; the type of legal motions that might be made at a trial with respect to evidence; and how to best put it together for a courtroom presentation,” he said yesterday.

Similarly, he said, police will be able to highlight areas of a case they believe are weakest or strongest.

In keeping with another recommendation, he said a new prosecutor will be assigned as a case moves along, to objectively assess whether it still makes sense to prosecute and how to prepare the case.

“For decisions on whether and how to proceed, we should bring in a fresh set of eyes just in case somebody suggests that we have acquired a little bit of ownership in a case,” the Attorney-General said. “We all become very attached to things when we work on them for a long period of time.”

Prof. Code and Mr. LeSage found that complicated prosecutions can be derailed or seriously delayed by a chaotic welter of legal motions. They said that assigning a judge to deal with these before trial could carve months or years from a case.

The sort of motions that could be decided before trial by a judge would involve such things as disclosure of evidence, third-party records, unreasonable delays, wiretap admissibility, confessions, and search and seizure, they said.

“These are the motions that can often take two or three times longer than the trial,” Mr. Bentley said. “Decisions could be made much earlier than the trial – sometimes a year or more earlier. It might mean the trial isn’t necessary. It would certainly make the whole system more effective.”

He said he hopes the federal government will agree to a Criminal Code amendment permitting the consolidation of power in pre-trial judges.

While Canada’s justice system is the envy of the world, he said, its public image has been tarnished by high-profile trials that moved at a sluggish pace or were derailed due to unconstitutional delays.

“Much of it is just the culture – the way we do these cases,” Mr. Bentley said. “They are just taking longer and longer. Well, justice delayed is not always justice achieved.”

He said that getting cases through the court system more quickly will mean that witnesses’ memories are clearer, victims and their communities will see crimes resolved more speedily, and police and prosecutors will be freed up to work on less serious cases.

“It means that prosecutions will be stronger, and frankly, if the evidence is not there to convict, we should know that a lot sooner so that people are not tied up in the justice system,” he added.

“This report is direct and does flow from experience. We expect these large cases to move faster.”

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