N.L. man’s drug charges tossed as Supreme Court rules right to a timely trial ‘cannot be lightly discarded’
The Supreme Court of Canada is standing by its groundbreaking decision on ensuring timely criminal trials.
In a unanimous decision Friday, the high court ruled that a Newfoundland and Labrador man facing drug and weapon charges should not go to trial under new rules spelled out last July for determining unjustifiable court delays.
James Cody was arrested in Conception Bay, N.L., in January 2010 and charged with drug possession for the purposes of trafficking and possession of a prohibited weapon.
However, for various reasons Cody’s trial was not slated to begin until late January 2015, five years and 21 days later.
The trial judge stayed the criminal proceedings against Cody in December 2014 due to the delay, a decision that was overturned by the Newfoundland and Labrador appeal court last year using transitional provisions of the new framework set out by the Supreme Court.
In its landmark decision last year, the high court cited a “culture of complacency” in the justice system and said the old means of determining whether a person’s constitutional right to a timely trial had been infringed was too complex and unpredictable.
Under the new framework, an unreasonable delay would be presumed should proceedings — from the criminal charge to conclusion of a trial — exceed 18 months in provincial court, or 30 months in superior court.
However, the court cautioned these benchmarks are not set in stone.
The Supreme Court also said that as a transitional measure for cases already in the system, the new framework must be applied “flexibly and contextually.”
In Friday’s decision, the court said that in the end, the delay in Cody’s case was unreasonable and therefore the order of the trial judge to halt proceedings against him must be restored.
“This appeal is yet another example of why change is necessary,” the court said in its decision.
The judges noted that a number of provincial attorneys general who intervened in the Cody case asked the court to modify the new framework to provide for more flexibility in deducting and justifying delay.
The court said that like any of its precedents, the 2016 decision “must be followed and it cannot be lightly discarded or overruled.”