The system is so strapped for resources

Feb 13, 2017 By Matthew Friedberg
The Ontario government’s move to deal with clogged courts and crowded jails with an injection of funding for more lawyers and an expansion of bail programs is an encouraging start for badly needed improvements to the justice system, says Toronto criminal lawyer Matthew Friedberg.

“It’s great the provincial government is allocating more resources for changes that appear to be sensitive to the needs of accused people and not just the police or prosecution — the system is so strapped for resources,” he tells AdvocateDaily.com. “These are positive developments.”

Friedberg, a partner with Caramanna Friedberg LLP, weighs in after Ontario’s Attorney General Yasir Naqvi recently told a news conference at London police headquarters that the changes are designed to move people through the courts more quickly and to relieve pressure on jails such as the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre, reports the London Free Press.

“Our criminal courts are bottle-necked. Dockets are jammed and timely trial dates are hard to come by,” Naqvi said in the article.

“There are too many vulnerable, low-risk people in our facilities who are awaiting trial, who don’t really need to be there and lack the right supports and supervision to be safely out of custody on bail.”

According to the newspaper, some of the changes in southwestern Ontario include: a new Crown bail vetter for faster bail decisions; a new duty counsel bail co-ordinator for faster bail decisions; more mental health, indigenous services in bail supervision programs; increased eligibility for bail services; an expansion of bail supervision programs to Chatham, Goderich, St. Thomas, Stratford, Woodstock and Sarnia; and the expansion of the weekend and statutory holiday court in London to hear cases more quickly.

They are part of a series of changes the province is planning to implement across Ontario.

Some say the changes are, at least in part, sparked by the Supreme Court of Canada decision R. v. Jordan, which established that criminal cases before the Superior Court shouldn’t take longer than 30 months to be heard and cases before the provincial courts should be heard within 18 months unless there is good reason, reports the Ottawa Citizen.

Among the changes in Ottawa is a new “embedded” Crown prosecutor with the Ottawa police to establish closer communications between the two and help determine whether there is sufficient evidence for charges to be laid.

Friedberg hopes this also means that prosecutors will closely assess files to determine whether matters are strong enough to go to trial. That, he says, would ease the backlogs in the court system.

However, he is somewhat doubtful that the system is currently set up in a way that allows prosecutors a significant amount of time to “dig into a file” to determine its strength at the beginning of the process. That is usually something that is determined by the Crown as the case moves through the system, he says.

“It would be great if this happened, but I think it would require a reorganization of the way the system works right now,” he says. “I think many of these ideas are great in theory, but let’s see if they have an impact."