Ontarios neglect of our court system is costing taxpayers

On November 19, Justice Peter Daley addressed a courtroom full of reporters at the Superior Court in Brampton to bring.

On November 19, Justice Peter Daley addressed a courtroom full of reporters at the Superior Court in Brampton to bring attention to the lack of resources that have been allocated to the Brampton courthouse by the provincial government. He didnt mince his words. A full transcript of His Honours comments can be found here. The following excerpt highlights his frustration: The Ontario government past and present is either wilfully blind to the erosion of trust caused by its failure to take timely steps to address the facilities crisis in Brampton, or it believes that spending on this courthouse will not result in more votes.

The failure by the province to adequately fund the court system has far-reaching effects. The irony is that this inaction by the province has the effect of increasing costs to the taxpayer, not the opposite. The efforts that are taken to ensure that cases are heard as fairly and as quickly as possible result in a far less efficient use of provincial dollars than what Justice Daley is asking for: more courtrooms.

The most tangible impact on those involved in the judicial system is mounting delays. The issue of court delays is not new. Two years ago, I wrote about the Supreme Courts decision in R. v. Jordan, which was designed to prod participants of the judicial system to make greater efforts to get to trial more quickly. What is unique about Justice Daleys comments is that they show the extent to which the provincial government has failed to do its part to remedy court delays.

Brampton has long held the title of having the busiest courthouse in Canada. It contains two levels of court (the Ontario Court of Justice and the Superior Court of Justice) and deals with criminal, civil, and family matters. As mentioned in Justice Daleys comments, for several years it has been necessary to routinely move cases from Brampton to neighbouring courthouses in Milton and Burlington in order to deal with the enormous number of cases that need to be heard in Brampton.

In his comments, Justice Daley noted that the standard wait time for a criminal trial is 10 months for a criminal trial (this is after the case has made it through the Ontario Court of Justice, which often takes up to a year), eight months for a civil motion and 16 months for a civil trial lasting longer than five days. These delays have a significant negative impact on everyone.

The primary rationale for a quick trial date is because memories fade and evidence can become unavailable as time goes by. In order to render to a fair decision in a case, it is in everyones interest to have the best quality of evidence. One of the residual effects of any busy courthouse is that trial matters are not reached on the day they are scheduled to be heard because there are simply too many cases scheduled for a given day. This results in litigants being required to take more time off work to deal with their cases and pay their lawyers more to attend on a future date. This creates a significant problem for access to justice.

The problem with access to justice has been made even worse by the use of courthouses in neighbouring jurisdictions. When a jury trial is moved from Brampton to Kitchener, for example, this requires all parties involved to travel much further to court. This includes the litigants, their lawyers, and the jurors who hear their case. Although the court has often provided transportation in these circumstances, the additional time for transportation can tire jurors and add additional stress to litigants during what is already a very stressful time. Inevitably, the time spent travelling to a different court makes trials take longer. In addition to the negative effects to those involved in the trial, it is the taxpayer that pays for these transportation costs and most of the costs associated in funding a trial that has gone on longer than it should.

In the criminal context, the delays that are caused by the lack of adequate facilities continue to breach the constitutional rights of accused people to have their trial within a reasonable amount of time. As more judges find that these rights have been breached, more cases are being stayed (i.e. charges are getting thrown out). While this is an unquestionably favourable result for those accused of crime, it can be quite distressing for victims of those crimes, and it is not the way the justice system is meant to proceed.

It is rare for a judge to call out so publicly to their government for help. In Justice Daleys case, it is clearly warranted. Although an extension to the Brampton courthouse began construction years ago, the provincial government has yet to provide the funding to complete the job. To be more precise, the provincial government has authorized construction for two of six floors of a new expansion, so under the current circumstances, four of those floors will simply be empty. In Justice Daleys words, partial construction of the courthouse addition represents a completely irresponsible decision with no connection to the real needs of the citizens of this region or this court. There is nothing controversial in Justice Daley pointing his finger at the provincial government. They are required by statute to provide adequate courthouse facilities. They have failed to do so, and the effect of their failure is far reaching. Even if youve never stepped foot inside a courthouse, if you are paying taxes in Ontario, you are paying for this mistake.

Brian Eberdt is a criminal defence lawyer with Lockyer Campbell Posner. Reasonable Doubt appears on Mondays.

A word of caution: You should not act or rely on the information provided in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Lockyer Campbell Posner or the lawyers of Lockyer Campbell Posner.

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