After trial delays, judicial shortages, and accusations of a “culture of complacency” in terms of delays in criminal trials, both Ottawa and the provinces themselves have taken the initiative to change the way criminal trials are processed in Canada and create a more efficient judicial system.

 One specific challenge within our province is the manner in which complex criminal cases have been heard. New changes are on the horizon that will provide relief both to the courts and to the accused as they navigate the justice system. Effective as of September 1st, 2017, the Supreme Court of British Columbia has passed act no. CPD-3, a Criminal Practice Direction that will facilitate faster processing times for complex and detailed court cases.

Here’s what our clientele should know:

The Background

 After a watershed case in which an Ontario man was forced to wait nearly three years to be tried for criminal offences, public outcry for changes in Canadian courtroom culture and a more efficient justice system guided Ottawa’s hand in ruling to impose time limits on court cases. The resulting legislation set the following deadlines:

  • 30 months for supreme court cases
  • 18 months for provincial cases 

These deadlines are in force from the moment charges are laid to the conclusion of the trial. Amidst accusations of a culture of complacency, one justice went so far as to say that the judiciary had “lost its way” and that previous rulings had, in essence, allowed for “endless flexibility”.

The ruling, though hailed as a victory in the battle against the culture of complacency, had unintended consequences, especially in British Columbia.

Criminal Cases at Risk in BC Courts

With strict deadlines now in place, British Columbia’s already overburdened justice system was put under further strain. The Vancouver Sun reported that “dozens of criminal cases were at risk of being thrown out due to delays”, including the cases of high-profile criminals.

The good news is that the judiciary has seen new additions to the bench in recent months to bolster its ranks. On top of that, the recent Criminal Practice Direction will further help to streamline the most difficult cases (i.e, the cases that cause the most stress to the system).

 Criminal Practice Direction No. CPD-3

Criminal Practice Direction no. CPD-3 describes the manner in which the court will handle complex criminal trials. Complex cases are cases that show the potential to occupy a large amount of time within the system or cause significant delays. This new system will require extensive involvement of Crown and defence counsel A few major changes to make note of are:

  • The institution of a case management judge
  • Where appropriate, the Crown may conduct parallel or simultaneous proceedings in front of two different judges
  • The institution of case management conferences to ensure the trial concludes in a timely manner
  • A streamlined application process for determining “voir dires” (trials within the trial for determining an issue separate from the case, such as the admissibility of evidence)

 The Criminal Practice Direction will help conclude trials within a timely manner but still maintain the fairness that our justice system relies on. As more complex cases are heard more efficiently, other criminal cases will have extra time for the attention they deserve. We hope that the addition of new justices and the increased dedication to handling cases fairly will aid in the carriage of justice in British Columbia.

If you’re in need of criminal defence attorneys in Vancouver, contact Sicotte & Sandhu today.