Judge did not violate accused's rights in taking nine months to reach guilty verdict, court rules

June 19, 2017
Article Source
The Globe and Mail

A judge who took nine months to decide that a man charged with sexually abusing one of his children was guilty – after a trial process that had already lasted 33 months – did not violate the accused man's right to a timely trial, a Manitoba court has ruled.

The case raised the question of what to do when a judge causes a delay well beyond that permitted by the Supreme Court's ruling in the Jordan case last summer. The Supreme Court did not deal with that question in its ruling. The court set an upper limit of 30 months, at which point trials in Superior Court are presumed to violate the accused individual's constitutional right to a trial within a reasonable period, and the charge must be thrown out, unless prosecutors can show exceptional circumstances.

The Jordan ruling has put pressure on prosecutors and defence lawyers to move cases along within the time limits. Judges have thrown out several murder cases because of delays that went beyond 30 months. The Winnipeg case highlights judges' accountability for their role in delays.

Chief Justice Glenn Joyal of the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench ruled in the case that the time judges take to arrive at a ruling on guilt or innocence should be considered separately from the calculations of whether a trial was delayed unreasonably. Otherwise, he said, a judge in a brief trial would have a long time to decide, while a judge in a long trial may have only a few days. And trials would have to be finished well within the time limits to give judges enough time to decide cases. Including judges within the Jordan time limits in this way, he said, would also limit judges' independence to decide matters as they see fit – a bedrock of Canada's legal system.

Only where the judge took so much time that the delay was "shocking, inordinate and unconscionable," he said, will the judge have violated the accused individual's right to a timely trial. That phrase comes from a 1987 Supreme Court ruling in R. v. Rahey, in which a lower-court judge took 11 months to render a decision on a minor motion during a trial. The Canadian Judicial Council, in guidelines for federally-appointed judges, says they should usually deliver their decisions within six months, but Chief Justice Joyal said that is not a high enough threshold to protect judges' independence.

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