Charges including assault and sexual assault stayed against Labrador man because trial took too long
Judge blamed delays on administration's decision to 'dramatically reduce' court presence on Labrador's coast
A provincial court judge blasted justice administrators in Labrador on Friday while staying proceedings against a man who was facing charges of sexual assault, assault and forcible confinement.
Judge John Joy made the decision after Davidee Allie Ningeok's defence lawyer made a charter application arguing that Ningeok's right to be tried within a reasonable time had been infringed upon.
"[It is] an undeniable and serious breach of Davidee Ningeok's right to a trial within a reasonable time," Joy said.
"The only reasonable remedy is a stay of proceedings."
Joy noted Ningeok was arrested in January 2013 and the trial concluded in July 2017 — 54½ months. It took over 17 months to bring the matter to its first trial date, far past the eight to 10 months required to bring a matter to trial at the time of an offence.
Even with some justified delays such as weather and illness, the judge said, a majority of the delays were institutional ones.
Joy pointed primarily to a decision by court administration to do away with the scheduled circuit court system for isolated communities on the Labrador coast such as Postville, where Ningeok's trial was held, to an ad hoc system of circuit court.
"What has happened in Labrador at least from 2011 to the present time is a significant reduction in the presence of the court on the coast of Labrador and certainly in Postville," Joy said, "at a time where a need for their presence in these communities has increased."
Prior to 2011, a circuit court would travel to Rigolet, Postville and Makkovik at least three or four times a year for weeklong sessions — a schedule set by Labrador judges.
But since then, said Joy, court administrators have taken over the scheduling of the circuit court.
"Court administration has cut out all the fixed circuits," said Joy. "Counsel is coming to court begging for trial dates."
He called that system "demonstrably worse" and said Postville is typically an "as-needed circuit" and court usually occurs only twice per 18 months. In the case of Ningeok, Joy said, there was a period of almost a year without a circuit court to Postville at the start of his matter followed by numerous gaps of six months.
When you have a high turnover in the people working in a justice system, that is a telltale sign that something is wrong.- John Joy
"Elements such as this make one wonder whether we're living in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador or the province of Newfoundland and its colony: Labrador," Joy said in his decision.
Other systematic issues
Joy also pointed to other systematic problems that contributed: Ningeok's legal counsel, provided to him through legal aid, changed four times during the course of the proceedings and at no time did Ningeok fire a lawyer or request a change in lawyers.
"The legal aid system passed him from one lawyer to another either because the lawyer left their employ or the legal aid management simply changed the assignment of the lawyer for its own organizational purposes," Joy said, adding that Labrador's legal aid office is "perpetually understaffed and overworked resulting in lawyers seldom staying for more than three years."
Joy said high turnover, low morale and inexperienced staff are chronic problems for Labrador's justice system.
"There are not enough trained and experienced people to do the work," Joy said. "When you have a high turnover in the people working in a justice system, that is a telltale sign that something is wrong."