According to a previous landmark ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada, cases must be completed within 18 months

A man who had been charged with two counts of sexual assault and two counts of assault against a woman filed an application before the Ontario Court of Justice requesting the latter to stay the proceedings because his constitutional right to be tried within a reasonable time had been violated.

Indeed, according to a landmark ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada, cases must be completed within 18 months, a time-limit which had been exceeded in the defendant’s case. In reply to the defendant’s arguments, the Prosecution argued that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic had caused significant disruptions to normal court operations and the ability of the Crown’s office to handle its regular duties; in other words, in the Prosecution’s view, the pandemic constituted an exceptional circumstance which justified the delay.

By judgment of 20 June 2023, the Ontario Court of Justice upheld the application filed by the defendant and entered a stay of proceedings on all counts. The Court noted that, in order to claim that the delay was justified, the Prosecution had to prove that the delay was actually connected with the pandemic and that there were specific circumstances which had had effects on the scheduling of the trial; the Prosecution could not merely rely on a generic reference to the backlog generated by the pandemic. There must be “some evidence that the time between when the parties were ready to set a trial date and when a trial date was obtained was markedly longer than it otherwise would have been due to the effects of the pandemic”, the Court highlighted. In the instance case, the delay was instead attributable to the Prosecution’s failure to provide core disclosure for ten months, something which had nothing to do with the pandemic. “The Crown cannot forever attempt to excuse the shortcomings of its constitutional obligations on the pandemic”, the Court concluded.

Reference: R. v. Hotaki, Ontario Court of Justice, 20 June 2023.

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