Criminal trial delays in Quebec have dropped dramatically in the year since the Supreme Court of Canada handed down the Jordan ruling, putting strict limits on judicial delays.

Superior Court of Quebec Chief Justice Jacques Fournier says that the timeline for criminal cases before his court, from preliminary inquiry to the start of the trial, has dropped from an average of 30 months to 17 months over the last year.

"In an ideal world, we'd shorten it to eight to ten months," Fournier told Radio-Canada's Geneviève Garon in an interview.

The Jordan ruling, issued by the Supreme Court of Canada last July, imposed new deadlines on the justice system to avoid unreasonable trial delays.

Trials involving less serious offences must now be wrapped up within 18 months, and those involving more serious charges, including murder, face a 30-month deadline. 

Quebec still needs more judges: Fournier

Fournier said it's urgent to increase the number of judges in the province, because the Jordan ruling has meant shuffling judges from civil court over to criminal court, which has caused longer delays in the civil system.

As of July 1, Quebec has 148 federally appointed Superior Court judges, with one vacancy, and 20 Court of Appeal judges. 

Quebec Justice Minister Stephanie Vallée has asked the federal government to appoint 10 more Superior Court judges to help deal with delays.

Fournier said the federal government has made a considerable effort across the country to appoint more judges, more quickly, but they're still waiting to see what the government does with the request for more Superior Court positions.

Judges moved to criminal courts

Five judges have been moved from civil court to criminal court to help cut down the time it takes for a case to go to trial and for that trial to be completed. But as a result, some civil proceedings are now delayed.

Fournier said in certain divisions, for civil proceedings that take a day, delays have increased from 10 weeks to 19 weeks. For proceedings that are more than three days, the delay has increased by month.

He said that for civil proceedings like custody cases, or disputes over the conditions of house purchases, those delays can mean putting your life on hold.

"It's a crisis, a situation which is incompatible with a normal life style," he said.

He cautioned that the increase in delays for civil proceedings happened over a period of just seven months, since last October when the province migrated those judges.

"But during that time, the cancer of delays is spreading elsewhere."

Montreal Court House

Five Quebec Superior Court judges have been moved from civil court to criminal court to help cut down on delays in the criminal system, but that has led to issues in the civil system. (Melinda Dalton/CBC)

​​"A year and a half for a proceeding is too long," he said. "It's not an acceptable situation, and it's ended up everywhere the judicial world, it's considered acceptable."

People have a right to timely justice system, and the faster it is, the less money it will cost them in legal fees and other expenses, he said.

Murder suspects avoided trial

One of the effects of the Jordan decision is the staying of charges in high-profile murder cases.

In Quebec, three people charged with murder have avoided trial since the Jordan ruling.

Sivaloganathan Thanabalasingham was charged with second-degree murder in the death of his wife, 21-year-old Anjula Baskaran. His charges were stayed after a Superior Court judge ruled the length of legal proceedings exceeded the time limits set by the Supreme Court.

At the beginning of June, the federal immigration department began the process of extraditing Thanabalasingham, who came to Canada as a refugee, back to Sri Lanka. Thanabalasingham was deported on Thursday.

In addition to the high-profile cases that were stayed, there have been 895 requests for a stay of proceedings relating to the Jordan rule filed as of late May, according to The Canadian Press.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story stated that the time it takes to complete a criminal trial in Quebec has been cut almost in half. However, Chief Justice Jacques Fournier was only commenting on the average reduction in time between a preliminary hearing and the start of a criminal trial.
    Jul 06, 2017 6:04 PM ET
with files from Radio-Canada's Geneviève Garon