It is a sad fact of our criminal justice system that the wheels of justice often turn very slowly. If you’ve been charged with a crime and you desperately want to clear your name and move forward with your life, every day, week, and month that goes by before your trial can seem like an eternity.
You Have a Right to be Tried Within a “Reasonable Time”
Under the Section 11(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, “Any person charged with an offence has the right…to be tried within a reasonable time.” As discussed by the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Morin (1992), four factors should be used to determine whether a delay was “unreasonable”:
- the length of the delay
- the explanation for the delay, including:
- inherent time requirements of the case,
- actions of the accused,
- actions of the Crown,
- limits on institutional resources, and
- other reasons for delay
- a waiver of the right by the accused
- prejudice to the accused
If the Crown takes too long to bring a criminal prosecution to trial, and how long is too long will vary from case to case, the defendant can assert a violation of his or her Charter rights and the court may stay the proceedings.
The problem is that what we may think of as a “reasonable time” is probably a lot quicker than what the law considers “reasonable” for purposes of determining whether a defendant’s rights have been violated under Section 11(b). Furthermore, enforcing that right, and getting a case stayed, has proven to be a tall order as a practical matter. Notwithstanding the efforts of both you and your criminal defence lawyer, your case still may be delayed and take a long (but constitutionally permissible) time to get to trial.
4 Common Reasons for Delays
Trials and hearings can be delayed for a variety of reasons. The following are some of the most common.
- The Crown Prosecutors Need More Time to Prepare. Crown prosecutors handle a huge number of cases at any given time and sometimes they simply cannot keep up with all of them. If your case is particularly complex, there’s generally a greater chance that the Crown will require more time to prepare. Of course, the same can be said for criminal defence lawyers. Although it can be frustrating to wait, you want your lawyer to leave no stone unturned, which includes having time to gather all available evidence in your defence.
- Overbooked Court Schedule. Just like prosecutors, the courts have full caseloads and there are simply not enough hours in the day or days in the month for all of them to be handled as quickly as would be desired. Just like airlines often overbook flights expecting some folks to cancel or miss their flight, courts may schedule multiple trials on the same day, anticipating that one or more defendants will accept a plea, removing the need for a full trial. Problems arise when this fails to happen and two trials are scheduled on the same day. In these situations, at least one trial will get delayed.
- Busy Lawyers’ Schedules. Just as courts have overloaded calendars, lawyers on both sides may have busy schedules. Getting everyone on the same page (literally) is sometimes challenging.
- Witness Unavailability. In criminal trials, the defence often depends on witness testimony. Witnesses are human beings, and they are subject to the same emergencies, accidents, and last-minute scheduling conflicts as everyone else.
Ottawa Criminal Defence Firm Engel & Associates Defends Against Even The Most Complicated Charges
Criminal defence lawyers Bruce Engel and Elena Davies have represented individuals and businesses charged with hundreds of different offences throughout Canada for more than two decades. From the start of a criminal investigation to the close of a trial, we will take a balanced and forceful approach to your defence. We have the experience and know-how to effectively navigate the constantly changing justice system in Canada.
The materials provided on this site are for information purposes only. These materials constitute general information relating to areas of law familiar to our firm lawyers. They do NOT constitute legal advice or other professional advice and you may not rely on the contents of this website as such.