Michael Ford

Court delays for impaired charges won't be tolerated

Generally the problem with getting any charge – including impaired driving charges – to trial is the court having the ability to hear the matter, says Toronto criminal lawyer Theo Sarantis.

And based on the reaction by judges in the court system, these kinds of delays can no longer be tolerated, especially when it comes to disclosure of evidence.

According to the Toronto Star, at least three Toronto judges in the last five months have blasted the police, Crown and the clogged court system for delaying simple impaired driving cases for so long that they were thrown out.

Judges are saying in a court system where the earliest trial date is many months away, the failure of police to provide crucial videotapes within a reasonable time, the article reads, is pushing cases well past the constitutional right to a timely trial.

"It is not uncommon, particularly in Toronto, for there to be an eight- to 10-month wait in getting the trial started from the time the parties are ready to go," says Sarantis, associate with Hicks Adams LLP. "When there is any delay at the front end, in respect of disclosure, the total delay is exceeding what the Supreme Court has defined as permissible and that's why you're seeing stays of prosecutions for breaches of the accused's right to have a reasonably prompt trial."

Sarantis adds that he finds it is becoming more and more common for disclosure in these impaired driving cases being delayed, particularly video disclosure.

"The message being sent is that delays in disclosure that push the matter beyond the tolerable range won't be tolerated," says Sarantis. "It's particularly troublesome in the context of an impaired driving investigation where the entirety of the investigation is in existence at the time of, or shortly after, the arrest.

When cases where full disclosure isn't being made on a first appearance and it's taking months to get full disclosure to an accused, Sarantis says it's causing matters to stretch out unreasonably and judges are ordering stays of the prosecution.

"The best way to resolve the problem is to have all disclosure available to an accused person on the first date to review and decide on a next course of action," says Sarantis. "It also assists when a first court date is soon after arrest as compared to a month or two later. The delays in getting a trial date may take some time to resolve but moving the matter forward at the front end will assist in seeing that accused persons aren't being left in limbo for months and months."

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