Timely justice

TheGlobeandMail.com – Politics – Timely justice
December 7, 2009.   Andrew Steele

The whining pundit longing for debates on matters of substance is a trope long past its due date, but I’m compelled to tread my deep worn tracks once again.

The level of political discourse at Queen’s Park last week was well below that found in a three-year-old’s birthday party.

Suffice it to say, matters of importance, from Children’s Aid Societies to the strike in driving test centres, have been forced to the margins.

For instance, take the Ontario Attorney-General’s website, where there is a quiet revolution underway.

Basically, anyone who has been forced to interact with Ontario’s court system knows it is suffering from a type of gridlock.

The average court charge now takes 205 days to complete, rather than 115 day in 1992.

Accused make an average of nine court appearances, compared to just four fifteen years ago.

This means more time in remand for those charged and without the resources for bail.

It means endless pain for the victims of crime forced to endure endless hearings and stayed motions.

On the civil side, court delay basically means a two-tier justice system. The rich can afford to hire lawyers and endure the high costs that come with endless discoveries. Those of modest means are left without recourse because litigation means bankruptcy.

The result is justice denied as average folks can no longer afford to use the courts to litigate their interests.

However, in contrast to the flat-earth society currently dominating the Legislative Assembly, Ontario’s Attorney-General has been quietly fixing the situation.

On the criminal side, Chris Bentley is introducing fundamental reforms to bring faster justice for victims and their families.

- legal aid will be available on site with a simplified application process.

- first appearances will not longer be perfunctory, but a meaningful hearing.

- disclosure and pleas will be sped up and access to Crowns available early to encourage out of court resolution.

On the civil side, the procedural and legal changes are sweeping, covering everything from small claims, trial management, appeals, unrepresented litigants and proportionality.

For instance, the monetary limits for Simplified Procedure will be increased from $50,000 to $100,000, allowing more cases to follow faster court rules with no discovery or cross-examination.

Pre-trial discovery will be limited to a single day, unless the parties or court agree to more. This will massively decrease the pre-trial costs for litigants.

Small claims will be increased from a maximum of $10,000 to $25,000.

This is hardly sexy stuff, but when your home, career or freedom is on the line, a court system that works is about as important as it gets.

Attorneys-general get remembered for banning squeegee kids, but Chris Bentley is leaving a more powerful legacy.

If this substantive reform process pays off, the result will be a court system that Ontarians can rely on for a generation to come.

Average folks will be able to see the courts as a reasonable way to settle disputes, not a quick way to go broke.

Criminal cases will be disposed quickly, lessening the horror for victims.

Costs will be lowered in a system that is – at its root – about settling the past, not building the future. Those dollars can be invested instead in education and infrastructure to build the province over the long-term.

Low cost, smart regulatory reform that unclogs broken systems will be much in demand over the next decade.

In contrast to the current “sizzle” strategy by the opposition, some steak might be just what the Liberals need.

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