Court delays not just a New Brunswick problem: civil liberties lawyer
A recent case has highlighted what some say are problems with delays in the criminal court system in New Brunswick.
Shakir Rahim, a lawyer and director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association's criminal justice program, said problematic delays, whether they result in a stay of charges or not, are becoming a trend across Canada.
"The issue of delay on cases in this country have been recognized all the way up to the Supreme Court," said Rahim, speaking to Information Morning Fredericton.
"So I think it's important we take an opportunity where we see delays ... to really sit back and think about what kind of investment is necessary in order to ensure that people receive justice in a timely fashion."
Rahim's comments are in response to a Moncton case in February where charges were stayed against a man accused of sexual assault, with the judge agreeing with the defence that the accused had waited too long to be tried.
The accused, a former dating partner of the complainant, cannot be named. He was charged May 28, 2021. Judge Paul Duffie stayed the charges while citing the accused's right under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to be tried within a reasonable time.
The New Brunswick Crown Prosecutors Association said last week their offices are in a state of crisis, with under staffing pushing them to the brink of collapse.
But not everyone agrees delays in New Brunswick courts are a crisis.
"I feel that in New Brunswick, we're doing a fairly good job in getting to matters in an appropriate amount of time according to the legal principles," said Pierre Castonguay, executive director of the New Brunswick Legal Aid Services Commission.
Castonguay said New Brunswick's legal aid offices work on a hybrid model of having permanent staff lawyers and hired lawyers from the private bar.
He admitted they have struggled to find private lawyers who are willing and able to do legal aid work, which Castonguay attributed to outdated rates of pay and an evolving post-Covid workforce.
He said Legal Aid pays lawyers $58 per hour if they have less than two years experience, and $70 per hour if they have more than two years of experience, for both criminal and family matters. He said those rates haven't changed since 2005.
Not enough criminal lawyers
New Brunswick defence lawyer David Lutz said he does see cases running against the ceiling of 18 months in N.B. provincial court, but that he expects the backlog to clear. That ceiling was set by a 2016 Supreme Court of Canada precedent for criminal cases in a provincial court.
He said very few criminal cases are thrown out at the provincial level for delay, and pointed out that a lot of the more serious criminal matters are heard by the Court of King's Bench, which "seem to be going pretty quickly."
"What's happened, particularly with COVID is there are very few full time criminal lawyers in this province anymore," said Lutz.
"That's probably because the people who get charged for most crimes are people who don't have a lot of money so they don't have a lot of money to pay lawyers, and quite a few serious cases are handled by legal aid."