Attorney General to hire more judges, lawyers to shorten trial wait times

Ontario is announcing plans to hire more judges, Crown attorneys, duty counsel and court staff to try to shorten the time it takes for criminal cases to get to trial.

Bail program to be extended so low-risk accused can be released from custody pending trial

Yasir Naqvi, Ontario's attorney general, says his officials are examining cases to make sure serious charges aren't stayed or withdrawn because of delays in meeting the Supreme Court's deadlines for trial. (CBC)

Attorney General Yasir Naqvi has announced plans to speed up Ontario's criminal justice system by hiring additional judges, lawyers, and court staff.

The hiring announcement comes in the wake of a Supreme Court of Canada ruling last July that a reasonable delay to trial is 18 months for provincial cases and 30 months for cases before the Superior court.

About 6,000 criminal cases could be stayed or withdrawn in the wake of the ruling, according to estimates from the Ontario Crown Attorneys Association.

"We have a great challenge ahead of us. There's no sugar-coating it," Naqvi said on Thursday during a press conference held at the University of Toronto's law school.

An additional 13 provincial judges will be appointed, and Ontario will hire 32 more assistant Crown attorneys, 16 duty counsel and 26 court staff.

"We're putting real, meaningful, permanent solutions in place that will ensure that our criminal justice system is responsive, is faster and fairer," Naqvi said.

He said the hiring process will start "immediately."

But Naqvi can't guarantee more cases won't be tossed over delays.

Speaking to reporters at Queen's Park on Thursday, NDP leader Andrea Horwath slammed the Liberal government for allowing the justice system "to literally crumble."

"The attorney general has been asleep at the switch," said Horwath. "Our court system has been in chaos, has been constricted for years."

Asked whether she thinks the extra staff will be enough to prevent more cases from being tossed out, Horwath's response was, "We'll have to wait and see." 

Naqvi is also expanding reforms to the bail system to try to reduce the number of low-risk accused awaiting trial in Ontario's crowded jails.

As part of bail reforms, the government is launching a program to provide "bail beds" — supervised housing for accused people who may not have otherwise been granted bail because they have no fixed address. The project will start in Thunder Bay.

With files from Mike Crawley, The Canadian Press