Earlier this year, a Judicial Justice of the Peace tried to speed a few matters through the court. There were a few traffic tickets that had been in court for nearly two years, and being provincial offences, this meant they passed the 18-month ceiling to qualify as unreasonably delayed.
In Canada, after Supreme Court of Canada in the Jordan decision, this Judicial Justice ordered stays of proceedings for several violation tickets. The tickets were initially issued in 2015 and the drivers who disputed the tickets all had rights to be tried in court within a reasonable time. The alleged offences weren’t extremely serious either: just standard speeding violations and an illegal left-turn.
Judicial Justice does not have jurisdiction to grant stays
Clearly, the Judicial Justice recognized the intention of the Jordan decision and wanted to move things along, clear up the backlog in traffic court, so new cases could be heard. Unfortunately, this well-intentioned Judicial Justice was ironically roadblocked by the very thing he was trying to fix: more court delays.
In a decision made this week in the BC Supreme Court, the higher court determined the Judicial Justice did not actually have jurisdiction to grant stays of proceedings. There were several niggling issues. First, the Judicial Justice or any judge would have to hold a hearing where you ask the accused to make their plea – guilty or not guilty. For some reason the Judicial Justice did not do that before directing a stay of proceedings. The second requirement was how Judicial Justices actually do not actually have the authority to grant stays of proceedings.
Only a Provincial Court Judge can rubber stamp the same decision
A Judicial Justice is a bit of a step below a proper Provincial Court Judge and do not have jurisdiction to hear Charter issues, which in this case would be required to grant stays of proceedings for unreasonable delay. The only way for them to do that would be to refer the matter to a Provincial Court Judge to hold the same hearing, to presumably grant the same decision.
Unfortunately, sometimes this is the way our court system works. In this example, four cases will be referred back to court for trial even though the matter was arguably already decided by a Judicial Justice of the court.
Traffic court already moves slowly
Traffic tickets take up a substantial amount of court time. There are already provisions in place to help speed them up, such as how they are often heard by Judicial Justices, how police officers, instead of Crown lawyers, prosecute them, and how the plea process is already expedited – if you pay a ticket, you are considered guilty. It is a good thing that the judiciary serving traffic court recognizes that many current cases are already systemically delayed, and that something needs to be done to get them heard faster.
Unfortunately, that feeling seems to be lost at the higher levels of court, where the concern is more about who is high-ranking enough to deliver the same decision that a lower jurisdiction has already rendered.
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