Section 11(b) of the Charter and the Law on a Stay of Proceedings – What are “transitional circumstances” and general information on calculating the “net-delay” by J.S. Patel, Calgary and Toronto Criminal Lawyer.

Published On: Jul 23,2017

June 25, 2017 Section 11(b) of the Charter and the Law on a Stay of Proceedings – What are “transitional circumstances” and general information on calculating the “net-delay”  by J.S. Patel, Calgary and Toronto Criminal Lawyer.   Contact J.S. Patel, Barrister at 403-585-1960 (Calgary) or 1-888-695-2211 (Toronto)

In Regina v. Cody, 2017 SCC 31 the Supreme Court of Canada revisited the legal and analytical framework for assessing the rights of a criminal defendant in the context of unreasonable delays in bringing the matters to trial(s).  As stated in the previous posts, the Supreme Court of Canada in Regina v. Jordan, 2016 SCC 27 for assessing claims of unreasonable delay under s.11(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the “Charter”).   In Jordan the court set out two (2) presumptive ceilings: 18 months for provincial court cases, and 30 months for superior court cases. The issue of “net delay” is critical to that assessment.  If the total delay minus defence delay exceeds the applicable presumptive ceiling, then the delay is presumptively unreasonable.  At that point, the Crown can rebut this presumption by demonstrating “exceptional circumstances.”   Those circumstances are described in Jordan.   What is more, where charges pre-date Jordan and the delay remains presumptively unreasonable after deducting defence delay and accounting for exceptional circumstances, the Crown may demonstrate that the “transitional exceptional circumstance” justifies the delay.

The Crown prosecutors had argued in Cody  sought to modified the Jordan framework notwithstanding it’s recent pronouncement of the same.  The Supreme Court declined to modify the Jordan framework. The court stated that, properly applied, the current framework “provides sufficient flexibility and accounts for the transitional period of time that is required for the criminal justice system to adapt” (at para. 3). The court also clarified some of the principles set out in Jordan.

The Court Cody, supra, summarized the following concerning defence delays at paragraphs 26-43: [26]                        Defence delay is divided into two components: (1) “delay waived by the defence”; and (2) “delay that is caused solely by the conduct of the defence” (Jordan, at paras. 61 and 63) [27]                        A waiver of delay by the defence may be explicit or implicit, but must be informed, clear and unequivocal (Jordan, at para. 61). In this case, it is undisputed that Mr. Cody expressly waived 13 months of delay. Accounting for this reduces the net delay to approximately 47.5 month [28]                         In broad terms, the second component is concerned with defence conduct and is intended to prevent the defence from benefitting from “its own delay-causing action or inaction” (Jordan, at para. 113). It applies to any situation where the defence conduct has “solely or directly” caused the delay (Jordan, at para. 66). [29]                         However, not all delay caused by defence conduct should be deducted under this component. In setting the presumptive ceilings, this Court recognized that an accused person’s right to make full answer and defence requires that the defence be permitted time to prepare and present its case. To this end, the presumptive ceilings of 30 months and 18 months have “already accounted for [the] procedural requirements” of an accused person’s case (Jordan, at para. 65; see also paras. 53 and 83). For this reason, “defence actions legitimately taken to respond to the charges fall outside the ambit of defence delay” and should not be deducted (Jordan, at para. 65). [30]                         The only deductible defence delay under this component is, therefore, that which: (1) is solely or directly caused by the accused person; and (2) flows from defence action that is illegitimate insomuch as it is not taken to respond to the charges. As we said in Jordan, the most straightforward example is “[d]eliberate and calculated defence tactics aimed at causing delay, which include frivolous applications and requests” (Jordan, at para. 63). Similarly, where the court and Crown are ready to proceed, but the defence is not, the resulting delay should also be deducted (Jordan, at para. 64). These examples were, however, just that — examples.  They were not stated in Jordan, nor should they be taken now, as exhaustively defining deductible defence delay. Again, as was made clear in Jordan, it remains “open to trial judges to find that other defence actions or conduct have caused delay” warranting a deduction (para. 64). [31]                         The determination of whether defence conduct is legitimate is “by no means an exact science” and is something that “first instance judges are uniquely positioned to gauge” (Jordan, at para. 65).  It is highly discretionary, and appellate courts must show a correspondingly high level of deference thereto. While trial judges should take care to not second-guess steps taken by defence for the purposes of responding to the charges, they must not be reticent about finding defence action to be illegitimate where it is appropriate to do so. [32]                         Defence conduct encompasses both substance and procedure — the decision to take a step, as well as the manner in which it is conducted, may attract scrutiny. To determine whether defence action is legitimately taken to respond to the charges, the circumstances surrounding the action or conduct may therefore be considered. The overall number, strength, importance, proximity to the Jordan ceilings, compliance with any notice or filing requirements and timeliness of defence applications may be relevant considerations. Irrespective of its merit, a defence action may be deemed not legitimate in the context of a  11(b) application if it is designed to delay or if it exhibits marked inefficiency or marked indifference toward delay. [33]                         As well, inaction may amount to defence conduct that is not legitimate (Jordan, at paras. 113 and 121). Illegitimacy may extend to omissions as well as acts (see, for example in another context,  v. Dixon1998 CanLII 805 (SCC), [1998] 1 S.C.R. 244, at para. 37). Accused persons must bear in mind that a corollary of the s. 11(b) right “to be tried within a reasonable time” is the responsibility to avoid causing unreasonable delay. Defence counsel are therefore expected to “actively advanc[e] their clients’ right to a trial within a reasonable time, collaborat[e] with Crown counsel when appropriate and . . . us[e] court time efficiently” (Jordan, at para. 138). [34]                         This understanding of illegitimate defence conduct should not be taken as diminishing an accused person’s right to make full answer and defence. Defence counsel may still pursue all available substantive and procedural means to defend their clients. What defence counsel are not permitted to do is to engage in illegitimate conduct and then have it count towards the Jordan  In this regard, while we recognize the potential tension between the right to make full answer and defence and the right to be tried within a reasonable time — and the need to balance both — in our view, neither right is diminished ‎by the deduction of delay caused by illegitimate defence conduct. [35]                         We stress that illegitimacy in this context does not necessarily amount to professional or ethical misconduct on the part of defence counsel. A finding of illegitimate defence conduct need not be tantamount to a finding of professional misconduct. Instead, legitimacy takes its meaning from the culture change demanded in Jordan.  All justice system participants — defence counsel included — must now accept that many practices which were formerly commonplace or merely tolerated are no longer compatible with the right guaranteed by  11(b) of the Charter. [36]                         To effect real change, it is necessary to do more than engage in a retrospective accounting of delay. It is not enough to “pick up the pieces once the delay has transpired” (Jordan, at para. 35). A proactive approach is required that prevents unnecessary delay by targeting its root causes. All participants in the criminal justice system share this responsibility (Jordan, at para. 137). [37]                         We reiterate the important role trial judges play in curtailing unnecessary delay and “changing courtroom culture” (Jordan, at para. 114). As this Court observed in Jordan, the role of the courts in effecting real change involves implementing more efficient procedures, including scheduling practices. Trial courts may wish to review their case management regimes to ensure that they provide the tools for parties to collaborate and conduct cases efficiently. Trial judges should make reasonable efforts to control and manage the conduct of trials. Appellate courts must support these efforts by affording deference to case management choices made by courts below. All courts, including this Court, must be mindful of the impact of their decisions on the conduct of trials. [para. 139] In scheduling, for example, a court may deny an adjournment request on the basis that it would result in unacceptably long delay, even where it would be deductible as defence delay. [38]                         In addition, trial judges should use their case management powers to minimize delay.  For example, before permitting an application to proceed, a trial judge should consider whether it has a reasonable prospect of success. This may entail asking defence counsel to summarize the evidence it anticipates eliciting in the voir dire and, where that summary reveals no basis upon which the application could succeed, dismissing the application summarily ( v. Kutynec (1992), 7 O.R. (3d) 277 (C.A.), at pp. 287-89; R. v. Vukelich (1996), 1996 CanLII 1005 (BC CA), 108 C.C.C. (3d) 193 (B.C.C.A.)). And, even where an application is permitted to proceed, a trial judge’s screening function subsists: trial judges should not hesitate to summarily dismiss “applications and requests the moment it becomes apparent they are frivolous” (Jordan, at para. 63). This screening function applies equally to Crown applications and requests. As a best practice, all counsel — Crown and defence — should take appropriate opportunities to ask trial judges to exercise such discretion.  [39]                         Trial judges should also be active in suggesting ways to improve efficiency in the conduct of legitimate applications and motions, such as proceeding on a documentary record alone. This responsibility is shared with counsel.

The court also considered what constitutes “exceptional circumstances” (at paras. 44-66) and when the “transitional exceptional circumstance” may justify a presumptively unreasonable delay (at paras. 67-74):

[67]                          The new framework in Jordan applies to cases already in the system (Jordan, at para. 95). However, in some cases, the transitional exceptional circumstance may justify a presumptively unreasonable delay where the charges were brought prior to the release of Jordan (Jordan, at para. 96). This should be the final step in the analysis, taken only where, as here, the deduction of discrete events does not reduce the delay below the presumptive ceiling and excess delay cannot be justified based on case complexity.  [68]                          Like case complexity, the transitional exceptional circumstance assessment involves a qualitative exercise. It recognizes “the fact that the parties’ behaviour cannot be judged strictly, against a standard of which they had no notice” and that “change takes time” (Jordan, at paras. 96-97). The Crown may rely on the transitional exceptional circumstance if it can show that “the time the case has taken is justified based on the parties’ reasonable reliance on the law as it previously existed” (Jordan, at para. 96). Put another way, the Crown may show that it cannot be faulted for failing to take further steps, because it would have understood the delay to be reasonable given its expectations prior to Jordan and the way delay and the other factors such as the seriousness of the offence and prejudice would have been assessed under Morin. [69]                          To be clear, it is presumed that the Crown and defence relied on the previous law until Jordan was released. In this regard, the exceptionality of the “transitional exceptional circumstance” does not lie in the rarity of its application, but rather in its temporary justification of delay that exceeds the ceiling based on the parties’ reasonable reliance on the law as it previously existed (Jordan, at para. 96). The transitional exceptional circumstance should be considered in cases that were in the system before Jordan. The determination of whether delay in excess of the presumptive ceiling is justified on the basis of reliance on the law as it previously existed must be undertaken contextually and with due “sensitiv[ity] to the manner in which the previous framework was applied” (Jordan, at paras. 96 and 98). Under the Morin framework, prejudice and seriousness of the offence “often played a decisive role in whether delay was unreasonable” (Jordan, at para. 96). Additionally, some jurisdictions are plagued with significant and notorious institutional delays, which was considered under Morin as well (Jordan, at para. 97; Morin, at pp. 799-800).  For cases currently in the system, these considerations can inform whether any excess delay may be justified as reasonable (Jordan, at para. 96). [70]                          It is important to clarify one aspect of these considerations. This Court’s decision in R. v. Williamson, 2016 SCC 28 (CanLII), [2016] 1 S.C.R. 741, should not be read as discounting the important role that the seriousness of the offence and prejudice play under the transitional exceptional circumstance. The facts of Williamson were unusual, in that it involved a straightforward case and an accused person who made repeated efforts to expedite the proceedings, which efforts stood in contrast with the Crown’s indifference (paras. 26-29). Therefore, despite the seriousness of the offence and the absence of prejudice, the delay exceeding the ceiling could not be justified under the transitional exceptional circumstance. This highlights that the parties’ general level of diligence may also be an important transitional consideration. But the bottom line is that all of these factors should be taken into consideration as appropriate in the circumstances.  [71]                          When considering the transitional exceptional circumstance, trial judges should be mindful of what portion of the proceedings took place before or after Jordan was released. For aspects of the case that pre-dated Jordan, the focus should be on reliance on factors that were relevant under the Morin framework, including the seriousness of the offence and prejudice. For delay that accrues after Jordan was released, the focus should instead be on the extent to which the parties and the courts had sufficient time to adapt (Jordan, at para. 96).  [72]                          In this case, the entire proceedings at trial pre-dated the release of Jordan. The Crown must therefore show that the 36.5 months of net delay was justified in light of its reliance on the previous state of the law under Morin. 

The factual and legal assessment of a remedy under Section 11(b) of the Charter for a stay of proceedings resulting, effectively, in a dismissal of the charges against you, is a complicated factual and legal assessment; and legal counsel ought to be sought from experienced counsel.

Contact J.S. Patel, Barrister at 403-585-1960 (Calgary) or 1-888-695-2211 (Toronto)

*** The opinions expressed in this Blog are not a substitute for full and through legal advice. It is not meant to be used a fulsome account of entire decision and area of law discussed.