News / Toronto

Ontario to hire more judges, lawyers to streamline criminal system

Attorney General Yasir Naqvi is also announcing that a bail verification and supervision program will be extended so that fewer low-risk accused are held in custody pending trial.

Ontario's Attorney General Yasir Naqvi attends an announcement in Toronto on Thursday December 1, 2016. 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. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Ontario's Attorney General Yasir Naqvi attends an announcement in Toronto on Thursday December 1, 2016. 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. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO — Ontario will 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 and make sure people aren't awaiting those trials in jail if they don't need to be there.

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

The Ontario Crown Attorneys Association recently estimated about 6,000 criminal cases could be stayed or withdrawn in the wake of the ruling.

Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said 13 more provincial judges will be appointed, and Ontario will hire 32 more assistant Crown attorneys, 16 duty counsel and 26 court staff.

"Our criminal courts are bottlenecked," he said. "Daily dockets are jammed and early trial dates are hard to come by. This is not good for anyone. Justice delayed is justice denied for victims, for witnesses, for the accused, for all of us."

In 2014-15 in Ontario, there were 108 successful applications under the charter for cases that were stayed due to violations of an accused's right to be tried within a reasonable time.

Naqvi also announced that three legal experts will provide him with advice as the ministry develops a new Crown policy on bail that will be released within six months. The announcements come with a $25-million price tag.

Naqvi said many accused held in correctional facilities are "vulnerable and are in need of support."

"Many are not a threat to public safety," he said. "They are low risk and simply do not have the supports they need to be out of custody on bail. Holding them in jail places a huge financial burden on the entire justice sector and costs the Ontario taxpayer, who ultimately foots the bill."

On any day in Ontario, nearly two-thirds of the people held in provincial correctional facilities have not been convicted and are awaiting trial.

Naqvi announced that a bail verification and supervision program will be extended so that more low-risk accused can be granted bail. The program will be expanded to several weekend court locations, as well as greater eligibility.

And as part of the 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 — starting with a location in Thunder Bay.

A number of courts in the province already have bail vettors, Crown attorneys who give defence lawyers more timely and informed bail positions to facilitate faster decisions, and some of the overall investment is going toward placing more dedicated vettors at more high-volume bail court locations. Experienced duty counsel bail co-ordinators will also be placed at those locations, Naqvi announced.

Starting next year, duty counsel will be available in six jails so they can provide legal advice and prepare accused people for bail hearings.

Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said he welcomed the changes but more needs to be done. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said court delays are not a new problem and only high-profile cases seem to "put a fire under the feet of the attorney general."

Naqvi has only been in the role since June, but Horwath said it's the Liberal government, "one way or the other."

"So whether it's the current attorney general or the one that was before him, the bottom line is this Liberal government has allowed the justice system...to literally crumble before their eyes after 15 years in government, this is where we're at," she said.

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