Noted legal expert says it’s time to better understand where our justice system is falling down
OTTAWA, Oct. 27, 2016 – A new Macdonald-Laurier Institute Straight Talk Q&A shares the insights of noted legal expert Scott Newark on the cumbersome procedures and inefficiencies that are causing the wheels of justice to turn ever more slowly and ineffectively.
Newark calls for reforms to ensure that justice is satisfactorily meted out in a fair and timely manner for offenders – and their victims.
“Our justice system literally relies on the confidence of the public that it’s supposed to be serving”, says Newark. “If people don’t think the justice system is working, they’re probably not going to resort to it”.
To read the full Straight Talk Q&A, click here.
The Q&A is based on Newark’s recent MLI paper, “Justice On Trial: Inefficiencies and ineffectiveness in the Canadian criminal justice system”.
Delays in the system are a huge issue, Newark notes. Victims feel the system isn’t delivering. Accused criminals are more likely to breach their bail conditions while they await trial.
Newark cites an extreme case from Alberta. A guy named Regan was charged with first-degree murder and the judge actually threw out the case because it had taken five years to come to trial.
“If people don’t think the justice system is working, they’re probably not going to resort to it” -Scott Newark
But Newark says more delays are not going to create a tipping point that will create reform in the system.
Instead, he says, a fix will come from a better understanding of what the problems are.
“By understanding why the delays are occurring, we’ll have a much better chance of saying what can we do to fix them”, he says. A recent meeting of federal, provincial and territorial ministers is a positive step, for example.
One area Newark feels need to be addressed is the delay caused by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Newark says the Charter has created a dynamic where the focus is more on process than on the result of criminal investigations. For example, there is now more attention paid to the process of acquiring a wiretap than on what is actually said on it.
“By understanding why the delays are occurring, we’ll have a much better chance of saying what can we do to fix them” -Scott Newark
The Charter was intended as a shield, Newark says, but is now used as a sword; defence teams can wield it to create unnecessarily delays on behalf of their clients in the hopes of having case thrown out, or in an effort to get extra credit for time served in jail and hence a reduced sentence.
“I think that’s one area we need to look at to see whether there are things we can do that will be Charter-compliant, but will change the way we do it so it’s not as lengthy or inefficient as it otherwise has become”, Newark says.
Scott Newark is a former security and policy advisor to both the Ontario and federal Ministers of Public Safety. During a 35-year criminal justice career, he has also served as an Alberta Crown Prosecutor, Executive Officer of the Canadian Police Association, Vice Chair and Special Counsel for the Ontario Office for Victims of Crime and Director of Operations for the Washington D.C. based Investigative Project on Terrorism.
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