Trial delays in Nova Scotia spark call for justice overhaul
We need more judges, courtrooms and lawyers, argues Crown prosecutor
Violent cases like homicides and sexual assaults are taking much longer to be heard in court, says the head of the Canadian Association of Crown Counsel, leading him to call for an overhaul of the justice system.
On Friday, Loretta Saunders's family and friends embraced outside the courthouse after hearing the two people accused of killing her will stand trial. However, the first-degree murder trials for Victoria Henneberry and Blake Leggette aren't expected to start until late 2015 or early 2016.
According to numbers released by the Department of Justice, the number of days it takes to finish a case have been creeping upwards. In 2008-2009 it took an average of 210 days to process adult cases, while last year it was 229 days.
It took 30 months for Lyle Howe to be tried for sexual assault. John Leonard MacKean waited 16 months to be tried for sexual assault in the case of a boy who was held for days in chains in a remote cabin. It'll be 29 months before Paul Calnen is tried for second-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend.
Senior prosecutors in the province are now booking long trials more than a year in advance.
More crime, complex cases
Rick Woodburn, president of the Canadian Association of Crown Counsel, says an increase in violent crime can lead to a lengthier trial process. In 2006 the public prosecution service had no open homicide files in Halifax. Now, it has 15.
“We hear that the violent crime rate is going down, however, those cases have become more complex and anecdotally speaking, I'm seeing more and more every year,” he said.
“We now have DNA evidence, the labs are busy with weapons, cell phones, search warrants, wiretaps, they're all things that have made files more complex."
The Crown lawyer says the entire justice system is in need of some major changes.
“We need more judges, we need more courtrooms, we need more prosecutors, more defence lawyers, legal aid, probation,” he said.
Delays can be hard on the families of victims, but they also open the door to a possible constitutional challenge from the accused, who have the right to a speedy trial.