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Number of cases dismissed before Nazi courts due to delays reaches historic high

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The number of cases dismissed in Nova Scotia courts due to delays has already reached an all-time high in 2023, and the year is not over yet.

As of July 31, judges have suspended 12 cases because they took too long – almost twice as many as in all of 2022.

One of the most recent examples is the case in which a teenager was convicted of sexually abusing a girl who was just five years old at the time the assaults began.

The conviction of the youth, who cannot be named due to a publication ban, was overturned by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal in a decision released late last month. The appeals court ruled that the trial judge had not properly considered a request by the accused's lawyer to dismiss the case due to delays.

“I am satisfied that appellant has demonstrated a violation of his constitutional right to a timely hearing,” Judge Anne Derrick wrote for the three-judge appellate panel.

The Supreme Court of Canada established fixed time limits for processing cases in its 2016 Jordan decision. In youth court, where the teenager was tried, that time limit is 18 months; the same time frame that applies to cases in provincial courts. In higher courts, such as the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, that time limit is 30 months.

So far this year, 26 Jordan applications have been filed in Nova Scotia courts. In 12 of these cases, judges granted stays. In three cases, the stays were ordered by the prosecution service. In four cases, judges denied the applications, while seven cases are still pending.

“We understand the impact on victims and their families when a case is affected by the timelines set by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Jordan case for unreasonable delays,” Justice Minister Brad Johns said in a statement.

“Nobody wants that to happen.”

Johns said the government was working to improve capacity by hiring more staff in the courts and prosecutors' offices.

“We are working across the justice system to make improvements that will help ensure cases are processed through the system in a timely manner,” John said.

Why the delay?

Several factors have contributed to delays in Jordan's applications, including a shortage of judges. There are currently two vacancies in the Nova Scotia Provincial Court. The situation has led to friction between the courts and the government.

One of these vacancies involves Judge Rickcola Brinton, who presides over Dartmouth but is on leave for an extended period.

In 2021, Judge Brinton heard the case of registered sex offender Brandon McNeil, who was accused of sexually assaulting two young brothers. McNeil faced serious charges including sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and sexual assault. Although she presided over the entire trial, Judge Brinton did not issue a ruling before her vacation, causing an undue delay.

Judge Bronwyn Duffy took over the case and decided to stay the charges against McNeil due to the delay.

In response to the rising Jordan numbers, a spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Attorney General's Office issued a statement.

“Our prosecutors are working very hard to ensure that prosecutions are completed within the timeframe set by Jordan,” said Chris Hanson.

“The current backlog of cases, partly caused by the pandemic, certainly poses a challenge. The PPS is currently processing around 80,000 criminal complaints.”

Crown burnout

Rick Woodburn, president of the Canadian Association of Crown Counsel, told CBC News in an email that there is a “historic lack of resources” in the criminal justice system.

“Many of our cases in Jordan were at risk even before the pandemic began, but now the situation has worsened exponentially,” he wrote.

“Our massive backlog of cases has been overcome by the increase in violent crime. Recent national crime statistics have shown that violent crime is increasing compared to pre-pandemic numbers.”

Woodburn said prosecutors were “overworked, mentally exhausted and fed up with the lack of support.”

He said more prosecutors need to be hired, noting that New Brunswick recently announced the hiring of 30 more prosecutors to address its own court crisis.

Rochelle Palmer, president of the Nova Scotia Bar Association, said the province lost nearly 20 experienced prosecutors (out of 107) in the past year alone.

“Our prosecutors have a big role to play in ensuring our cases do not fall victim to Jordan’s delay – and with an adequately funded and well-resourced prosecutor’s office, our prosecutors have the ability to sift through and prioritise files to get them through [the] system efficiently,” Palmer told CBC News in an email.

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