Justice minister ‘confident’ coronavirus court delays are under control as second wave surges

As the country’s most populous province prepares to reimpose strict rules in a bid to rein in an accelerating surge in coronavirus cases, Justice Minister David Lametti says he’s “confident” the court system is able to cope with the situation.

In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Lametti was asked about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on courts and trials, and whether he anticipates delays will lead to serious charges, such as murder, being thrown out.

“So far, the situation,  we feel, is under control,” Lametti said, noting the 2016 Jordan decision, which imposes timelines on how long can pass between being charged and getting a trial, also includes a provision for “exceptional circumstances.”

“We are in constant communication with people administering the courts and for the time being, we’re satisfied that things are moving well,” he continued.

“This is an exceptional circumstance and we’re confident that it will be factored into decision making.”

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Under the provisions of the Supreme Court of Canada’s Jordan decision, no more than 18 months can pass between the laying of a charge and the end of a trial for cases in provincial court.

That timeline rises to 30 months for cases in superior courts.

Some courts moved to delay jury trials early on in the pandemic, including the Court of Queen’s Bench in Saskatchewan, out of concerns about how best to protect public health.

Many have increased use of video and audio appearances, and accused persons also still have the option to decide on a trial by judge alone rather than by a jury.

Lametti says he and Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Wagner have been working with other chief justices and court administrators across the country to ensure courts can continue to function.

And while he said he’s “impressed” by the way the court system has adapted, he recognizes the second wave spike in infections across much of the country will raise more questions.

“We’ll see with this second wave what the impact will be on jury trials.”

Nearly 800 criminal cases from manslaughter to murder have been thrown out across the country in the years since the 2016 Jordan decision.

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