Opinion Column

Justice delayed is justice denied


There are many fundamental problems with our justice system in British Columbia, but the time it's taking for court dates to be set threatens to bring the whole system crashing down.

Typically, the courts view 18 months as the acceptable time for trials or preliminary inquiries to be held once charges are laid and a first appearance has been made.

As it stands, the courts have been dismissing charges when an accused person has not appeared before them for 18 months. In 2010, 56 cases were tossed out for such a delay. In 2011, the number nearly doubled to 109.

Right now, there are nearly 2,500 cases facing the 18-month deadline in the Lower Mainland. What sense of justice might the victims in those cases feel if the charges were suddenly dropped because of time delays in getting the cases before the bench?

Last week, accused Stanley Cup rioter Alicia Price pleaded not guilty to three charges arising from the mayhem of last June 15th after the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup in Game 7 of the final. She was seen on several videos smashing a piece of wood on a Vancouver Police Department cruiser and attempting to set it on fire.

The system accepted her not guilty plea and assigned her a trial date in the fall of 2013, dangerously close to that 18-month limit out of the gate.

Another rioter pleaded guilty last week and instead of swift justice, as we saw in the wake of the riots in London last summer, the court assigned yet another date to look at sentencing. Judges seem to always want a pre-sentence report, a written document providing information about the case, further challenging the system and adding more delays.

To date, police have managed to get Crown counsel to approve 238 charges against 91 accused rioters.

And their efforts continue. But the system under which they labour is not the fault of the police. They are doing their job methodically and efficiently, led by Insp. Les Yeo in identifying the witless wonders who rioted after Game 7.

Despite the cries from all and sundry for swift justice post-riot, the reality is the system is staggering under the weight of cases before it due to judicial reticence and bureaucratic processes resulting from precedent decisions, such as the Supreme Court of Canada's Stinchcombe decision, requiring disclosure of anything and everything by the police. What was once a one or two-day trial can now be weeks long.

The answers aren't easy but clearly, justice delayed is justice denied. B.C. defines that.