A Halton judge who tossed a drunk-driving case after a delay of nearly a year has blamed a lack of government funding coupled with a tough-on-crime agenda for the region’s backlogged court system.
It’s not the first time Justice Stephen D. Brown has railed against tight government purse strings contributing to the region’s overburdened judicial system and he’s far from alone in calling on the province to act.
Last week, Brown threw out the case, ruling the 11-month and one-week delay infringed on the defendant’s right to trial within a reasonable time.
In his March 16 ruling, the judge takes aim at the province for not reacting to Halton’s continuing population boom.
“The government has failed to allocate sufficient resources in Halton for a lengthy period of time. This cannot be an oversight but only a conscious decision.”
Brown’s lament is reflective of chronic problems plaguing Ontario’s court system for years, legal experts say.
“There is a resource problem in the court system that hasn’t been addressed properly,” said Daniel Brown, Toronto director of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association.
Halton Region has two courthouses — one in Milton and another in Burlington.
In his ruling, Brown notes shortcomings of both buildings, and mentions fellow Halton judge Alan D. Cooper’s complaint about the aging Burlington courthouse’s “strip mall-like location.”
The province is funding an “accelerated new courthouse construction program and investing in existing courthouses,” said Brendan Crawley, Ministry of the Attorney General spokesperson.
“Numerous courthouses across Ontario are facing facilities challenges. Our courthouse capital investment decisions are guided by long-term planning and the need to ensure that facilities with the greatest needs are given priority.
“We recognize that there are ongoing facility challenges at the Milton courthouse, and this remains a priority for the ministry,” added Crawley, noting the province has invested more than $1.6 billion in justice system capital projects.
But Brown’s argument isn’t just about worn bricks and mortar; the judge also points to a scarcity of human capital contributing to the backlog.
For instance, Halton’s judicial system hasn’t seen its contingent of seven Ontario Court of Justice judges increase since 2004, despite the population influx, Brown wrote.
Crawley said “the causes of delay, including institutional delay, are complex.”
Jonathan Rosenthal, a Toronto-based lawyer, represented Hany Ibrahim, a 26-year-old University of Guelph graduate who was charged with impaired driving — the case Brown threw out.
Ibrahim mounted a Charter of Rights and Freedoms application, stating his right “to be tried within a reasonable time” had been infringed.
The judge said Ibrahim’s lawyer “did everything possible to move the matter along expeditiously,” and ruled the charge be stayed.
Robert Solomon, director of legal policy for Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, called the outcome “disappointing.”
“It reinforces the wrong message and frankly, it endangers young people.”
But Rosenthal, who declined to discuss Ibrahim’s case, says Charter applications have become daily occurrences across the board in Ontario.
Crown attorneys are “grossly underfunded” and must pick and choose what to prioritize, which pushes cases to the back burner, he added.
“This is the easiest problem in the criminal justice system to fix. It’s just money.”
John Hale, who teaches criminal law at Carleton University in Ottawa, called the problem “a perfect storm.”
The federal government’s mandatory minimum sentences have removed much discretion from the prosecution’s playbook, such a peace bonds or community service, Hale said.
“Crowns are feeling their hands are tied.”
More defendants, facing stiffer punishment, also go to trial to fight charges in cases that are increasingly complex with expert witness testimony, he added.
Moreover, legal aid limitations have pushed more litigants to go unrepresented, further gumming up the process, Hale said.
A Department of Justice spokesperson said Ottawa “is committed to ensuring that courts across Canada have an appropriate level of judicial and other resources to support an accessible and effective justice system.”
Source: The Hamilton Spectator