Legal expert worries victims suffer more harm when delayed criminal cases are thrown out

A law professor believes that by staying serious criminal charges such as murder and sexual assault if court proceedings take too long, the justice system runs the risk of further victimizing people who suffered harm, as well as their families.

Ruling could result in 6,000 cases thrown out in Ontario alone

Legal experts worry thousands of cases could be thrown out resulting in people who have committed offences walking free. (Danny Globerman/CBC)

A law professor believes that by staying serious criminal charges such as murder and sexual assault if court proceedings take too long, the justice system runs the risk of further victimizing people who suffered harm, as well as their families.

The Supreme Court of Canada's controversial ruling last July, known as the Jordan decision, sets new rules on an accused person's right to be tried within a reasonable timeframe. Cases that take longer than 30 months in Superior Court and 18 months in provincial court could be thrown out.

University of British Columbia law professor Ben Perrin said the Supreme Court "failed miserably" and that justices were "irresponsible" making that ruling.

"I'm concerned about victims of crime. It is an absolute tragedy of justice when you have accused killers going free, not because they've been acquitted, or because the evidence was unconstitutionally obtained, but because the system took too long," Perrin told host Hallie Cotnam on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

The new rules could result in some 6,000 criminal cases stayed in Ontario alone. CBC found Ontario judges stayed 46 cases due to court delays from July to December 2016, including a high-profile murder case here in Ottawa.

Perrin said that can result in a "complete loss of confidence" in the court process. "It creates what we call secondary victimization," he said. 

A protest erupted outside the Ottawa courthouse on Nov. 17, 2016, over a judge's decision to stay Adam Picard's first-degree murder charge because of delays in bringing the case to trial. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

'It's made so much worse'

"It's the harm done by the justice system. We look at cases in Canada where the initial harm done was bad enough, and it's made so much worse."

He highlights two issues that arise as a result of the Supreme Court decision, the first being the lack of consideration of the seriousness of cases.

"The Jordan test treats a sexual assault charge the same as a shoplifting charge, in terms of its timelines. They don't care. Literally the test does not account for it, expressly denies it. We used to consider that, and we should again," Perrin said.

Ben Perrin is a law professor at the University of British Columbia. (CBC)
"The second thing is the court does not consider the impact on victims when these charges are stayed, and that also is highly problematic that they're completely ignored in this calculus. Victims have no standing to appear on a Jordan application to tell the judge about the impact of the offense, and how it will affect them."

To address some of the problems he believes the Jordan decision creates, he believes the justice system needs to overhaul its structure to take non-serious charges out of criminal courts in order to deal with them through administrative processes, among other measures.