June 16, 2017 / 8:01 PM / 2 months ago

Canada's top court holds to tough stance on trial delays

FILE PHOTO - A view shows the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa February 6, 2015.Chris Wattie

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Supreme Court of Canada affirmed its tough stance on criminal trial delays in a unanimous ruling on Friday that dismissed drug trafficking charges in a case that took five years for a trial to be scheduled.

In a landmark decision last July, known as the Jordan ruling, the court set out timeliness to ensure the right of an accused to a timely trial. Lower court cases must be completed within 18 months of an arrest, while Superior Court cases, which include serious crimes like murder, cannot exceed 30 months.

That decision has led to hundreds of cases being thrown out by prosecutors and prompted concerns that the rights of victims were not being adequately considered.

Friday's decision focused on the case of James Cody, whose five-day trial was scheduled to begin five years after he was charged with drugs and weapons offenses in 2010.

Restoring a previous stay of proceedings, the court found the delay in the case was "unreasonable" and said prosecutors, the defense and the justice system all contributed to the delay.

"They've reaffirmed Jordan very strongly," said Carissima Mathen, associate law professor at the University of Ottawa.

"They're signaling that they're very concerned about trial delays, they think that the system needs a shock."

The case deadlines laid out last summer "must be followed and it cannot be lightly discarded or overruled," the court said in a 7-0 ruling.

"Properly applied, this framework provides sufficient flexibility and accounts for the transitional period of time that is required for the criminal justice system to adapt."

Cases already in the system may be given "transitional considerations" or exceptions that could justify a delay that exceeds the deadline, and the seriousness of the offense should also be taken into consideration, the court said.

"What they're saying is there has to be a little bit of latitude for cases that were already in the system, but it's clear that has to be applied fairly conservatively," Mathen said.

Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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