N.S. justice minister concerned about sex assault cases tossed over delays
Mark Furey says there's been regular meetings with law enforcement, prosecutors
Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey says dismissing one serious criminal charge because it's taken too long to go through the courts is one charge too many.
Furey was reacting to the fact sexual assault charges were recently stayed in two separate cases, against Regan Brant Tolbert and Jordan Michael Ellis, because their trials took too long.
"These obviously are concerning to me, there's no question about that," Furey said Thursday following a cabinet meeting. "There's a number of cases before the court, sexual assault, violent crimes, homicides that are all impacted by the Jordan decision."
Furey was referring to a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada which set time limits for the completion of criminal trials. In provincial court, the so-called Jordan decision sets a limit of 18 months. Both the Tolbert and Ellis cases exceeded that limit.
Tolbert was charged on June 7, 2017, but his case suffered numerous delays, including scheduling conflicts among lawyers. One trial continuation had to be rescheduled when Tolbert suffered a collapsed lung. Last month, a provincial court judge in Kentville stayed the charge against him.
Crown challenging one case
In Ellis's case, his trial did not conclude until more than two years after he was first accused. A judge stayed the charge against him in August 2019.
The decision in the Ellis case has been upheld by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal. The Crown is seeking leave to take it to the Supreme Court of Canada.
No decision has yet been made on whether to appeal the decision to stay the charge in the Tolbert case.
Furey said his department is keeping a close eye on the impact the restrictions imposed by the Jordan decision are having.
"We have regular meetings with law enforcement, with our Public Prosecution Service, with our court services here in the department," he said.
Furey said some of the measures courts have introduced to help deal with the COVID-19 pandemic should help speed up proceedings and reduce the risk of running out of time.
Those measures include allowing more court appearances to be done by telephone or video conference and allowing for more documentation to be filed electronically.