Nova Scotia

Supreme Court ruling on unreasonable delays sets tight deadlines

The new set of deadlines issued by the Supreme Court of Canada means provincial court matters must be done within 18 months.

Supreme Court of Canada deadlines set this summer mean provincial court cases must be done within 18 months

The new set of deadlines issued by the Supreme Court of Canada means provincial court matters must be done within 18 months. (Robert Short/CBC)

Barrett Richard Jordan is having a profound effect on the Nova Scotia justice system, despite formerly facing charges in a province thousands of kilometres away.

Jordan was charged with drug offences in British Columbia, and his case took nearly four years to come to trial.

In a landmark decision this summer, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that was far too long.

In dismissing the case against Jordan, the country's highest court also imposed time limits that all courts must abide by.

Matters in provincial courts must be done within 18 months from the date the information is sworn.

In Supreme Court, the timeline is now 30 months.

New deadlines a 'game-changer'

The director of the province's Public Prosecution Service, Martin Herschorn, refers to the Jordan decision as a game-changer.

"This system, the court has told us, has to change," Herschorn said Friday.

"All the players in Nova Scotia, I know from my personal interaction with them, are committed to making that change."

Nova Scotia had a head start in dealing with court delays, thanks to an earlier Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the case of Ernest Fenwick MacIntosh. The accused pedophile had Canadian charges against him stayed because the court ruled it took too long to deal with them.

New delay alert system

"After that case we instituted an electronic delay alert system and every time our senior management team gets together, we review those cases, which have been identified through that electronic system," Herschorn said.

Herschorn said they're also looking at an alert system being built into the Justice Enterprise Information Network — the main computer program that tracks criminal cases in Nova Scotia. That way not just the Crown but all players would be able to keep track of how long a case is taking.

Herschorn said Crowns are now triaging cases and talking with defence lawyers about ways to speed things up.

He described delays as the service's number one priority.

Defence lawyers agree

His view is shared by defence lawyers.

"There's no doubt that this particular decision makes sure that you're going to be dealt with within a finite period of time, whereas before it wasn't clear," veteran defence lawyer Kevin Burke said earlier this month.

Burke represented one of the 28 people charged in a police drug operation dubbed Operation H-Tort. Charges against Burke's client and three other men arrested in the sting were all either stayed or withdrawn because of the new deadlines.

Tom Singleton represented another of the H-Tort accused.

System 'has to change'

"The whole impetus for the Supreme Court decision was its concern over what this was doing to the administration of justice in Canada," Singleton said.

In most of the U.S., if someone is charged, "they are usually having a trial in under a year from the date they were charged," he said. Singleton said that seldom happened in Canada.

Herschorn said the delay issue is the top priority for the Public Prosecution Service.

"This system, the court has told us, has to change," he said.