The House

Midweek podcast: Senate tries to deal with 'out of whack' court delays

This week on the midweek podcast senators George Baker and Bob Runciman on how the federal government can help alleviate court delays. Then a look back at Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin's career on the bench with the CBC's Alison Crawford and a look ahead with University of Ottawa law professor Carissima Mathen.

Then a look at the challenges the Supreme Court faces after Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin leaves

In July, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a reasonable delay to trial is no more than 18 months in provincial court and 30 months for cases before the Superior Court.

Since the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision aimed at limiting trial delays last summer the Liberal government has heard from angry families of victims, defence and Crown attorneys and provincial justice ministers— and it can now add a 211-page report to that pile of complaints.

In July 2016, the Supreme Court released the so-called Jordan decision, which ruled that a reasonable delay for a trial should not exceed\n 18 months in provincial court and 30 months for cases before the Superior Court. Those time limits have resulted in some serious cases being thrown out of court, including a case in Quebec where a man accused of killing his wife had his charges stayed because the case took too long to get to trial.

Senate committee on legal and constitutional affairs Chair Senator Bob Runciman listens as Senator George Baker responds to a question after releasing the committee's final report on court delays in Canada during a news conference in Ottawa today. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

On Wednesday, a Senate committee put forward 50 recommendations aimed at unclogging courts across the country and ensuring accused criminals don't elude justice due to lengthy trial delays.​

One recommendation from the Senate committee on legal and constitutional affairs asks the federal government to overhaul Canada's Criminal Code to allow reduced sentences or financial compensation as an alternative to tossing out a case when it takes too long to get to trial.

"It takes a similar trial taking place in Canada and in Australia, it takes ten times longer to have that trial in Canada than it does in Australia," said the committee's deputy chair, Liberal Senator George Baker.

Justice Beverley McLachlin is sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice during a ceremony April 17, 1989, in Ottawa. (Ron Poling/Canadian Press)

"So we're way out of whack as far as the time it takes for a trial to be completed."

It's now up to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to respond, said Conservative Senator Bob Runciman, chair of the legal and constitutional affairs committee.

"When we talk about the culture of complacency, I think that applies to governments of all political stripes as well — provincially and federally. So you know we have to hope, we have to be optimistic. We think we've laid out a roadmap here in ways that this can be addressed, " he said.

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin signals her goodbye

Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin was one of the dissenting voices on the Jordan decision, just one of the controversial decisions marking her 28 years with the top court, including 17 years as the presiding judge.

She announced she'll retire from the bench on Dec. 15, 2017.

It's now up to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to appoint a new chief justice. 

University of Ottawa law professor Carissima Mathen expects it will come from within the existing Supreme Court ranks.

"There really isn't much precedent in Canada to parachute someone into the court as a new justice and as a chief justice," she said.

Mathen said there's some expectation that McLachlin's replacement would be from Quebec given the practice of rotating between civil and common law jurists.

But she's not sure replacing McLachlin with another woman will top Trudeau's list.

"He might like to make that kind of statement, but I think when you're dealing with such a small group of candidates and looking at all the other considerations. Who wants it? What's their seniority? What are their administrative skills? In that context I personally would see gender as a little bit lower on that list," Mathen said.