Delays prompt the judge to stay the indictment of a man accused of sexual assault
Charges against a man accused of sexual assault were stayed in Moncton Provincial Court on Friday, with the judge agreeing with the defense that the accused had waited too long for his trial.
Meanwhile, a group representing QCs says staffing shortages in their ranks are at crisis levels.
Judge Paul Duffie upheld the charges but invoked the defendant’s right under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to be tried within a reasonable time.
There is a ban on the publication of the complainant’s name and any information that could reveal his identity.
The defendant, a former partner of the applicant, cannot be named. He was charged on May 28, 2021.
In delivering his verdict, Duffie said no delays were caused by the defense. Duffie described some of the delays as extraordinary circumstances but said some were the prosecutors’ fault.
Shara Munn, president of the New Brunswick Crown Prosecutors Association, said it was a disappointing but not surprising result.
She said her members have had staffing issues for 10 to 15 years, and in recent years the shortage has become a crisis.
“We have tried to inform the government that we are on the verge of collapse,” Munn said.
“I think today’s decision by Moncton basically signals that unfortunately we were right and so here we are.”
Duffie’s decision effectively ends the case.
Munn didn’t have statistics on how often court visits occur in New Brunswick, but said, “Certainly one case is one case too many.”
Attorney General Ted Flemming said in an emailed statement that the Department of Justice and Public Safety is speaking to the New Brunswick Crown Prosecutors Association to better understand their perspective.
“In New Brunswick, court decisions to stay a charge because of unreasonable delay before trial are very exceptional,” he said in the statement.
“Obviously any such decision is unfortunate, for everyone who has been harmed by crime deserves to have their case decided. Prosecutors review each file retained for delay to ensure lessons are learned and future risk reduced. “
Timeline shows multiple delays
According to the timeline provided by Judge Duffie, the defendant first appeared in court on June 4, 2021. The defendant requested an adjournment, which was granted until June 25.
During the June 25 appearance, the defendant pleaded not guilty and elected to be tried by a judge. A one-day test was scheduled for May 12, 2022.
On May 9, 2022, the parties appeared in court as the assigned prosecutor was on sick leave and the trial could not proceed as planned. It was postponed to September 30th.
On September 22, the provincial government announced that September 30 would be the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. The trial was then postponed to January 19.
However, the delays were not over yet.
On October 22, the parties reappeared in court because the court date had been wrongly assigned, according to the commissioned Crown Prosecutor, who was unavailable.
The next hearing date was set for February 27th.
Defense attorney Bruce Phillips had filed a motion to stay the charges under Section 11(b) of the Charter.
Duffie heard testimony about the delays last week.
The projected limit for cases in a provincial court, set by precedent from the Supreme Court of Canada, is 18 months and 30 months for the Court of King’s Bench.
Duffie said the total delays amounted to more than 19 months.
Munn pointed out that the upper limits should not be aimed for.
“When you participate in a system as a victim, a witness, or even an accused, any delay feels like a disregard for justice,” she said.
“The fact that we have trial dates that are routinely set now in 2024, when we’re just… new to 2023, is of great concern to me and is of concern to our members.”