Judges’ schedule: Quebec loses a first round in its dispute with the chief judge of the Court of Quebec
Quebec loses a first round in court: the Superior Court refused to temporarily suspend the decision of the Chief Justice of the Court of Quebec who wants her magistrates to spend fewer days each week hearing criminal cases.
Chief Justice Lucie Rondeau advised the government last December of her decision and has now implemented it.
Since September, some 160 judges of the Court of Quebec in the Criminal Division have been sitting every other day, rather than two days out of three. The rest of their working weeks are used to study cases and write judgments. This change is necessary because the tasks of judges have become considerably more complex over time with constitutional challenges and electronic surveillance, she explained, stressing the need to deliver « quality justice » and not only to “speed. »
The case has an impact on citizens because this decision by the Chief Justice means that fewer cases can be heard each week. The defendants risk having to wait longer before having a trial date, just like the victims who could have to put “their life on pause” before being able to “move on to something else”, noted in particular the CAVACs [Centres d’aide aux victimes d’actes criminels].
Chief Justice Rondeau was aware that this change risked increasing the height of the backlog.
To overcome this difficulty, she asked Quebec to appoint 41 new judges. The government countered that the appointment process, which in this case includes a legislative amendment, could not be done so quickly, and certainly not before September 2022.
The government’s lawyer rightly argued for this increase in delays, arguing that the judge’s decision risked leading to a stay of proceedings from which the offenders will benefit, if the cases exceed the duration limits established by the judgment. Jordan of the Supreme Court. The change is equivalent to « a loss of 4617 days of hearing » according to Quebec.
The Minister of Justice, Simon Jolin-Barrette therefore asked the judge to reconsider his decision which he describes as “unreasonable”.
When the Chief Justice refused, the government went to court, asking it to immediately suspend this decision on the working hours of judges. At the same time, he filed a request to have it quashed for good.
After hearing the arguments on both sides, Judge Pierre Nollet of the Superior Court dismissed Quebec’s request.
In his decision dated November 3, the magistrate recalled that the request for a stay is an « exceptional » measure, which aims to prevent « irreparable harm » from occurring if a stay is not granted for the duration of the judicial process.
One of the prejudices raised by Quebec is precisely the increase in delays and the postponement of criminal cases. Judge Nollet retains from the evidence that the Court of Quebec was already undermined by « much greater systemic delays » even before the judge’s decision and that, if the trial schedule must be undone and redone, there will be in this case -there too postponements of trials.
Emphasizing the “weakness” of the Quebec government’s arguments, Justice Nollet recalled that when the government passes a law, it is presumed to be in the public interest. So too are decisions made by a chief justice — a “senior judicial official” in a role “like that of a minister,” he writes. During the trial, the government will therefore have the burden of demonstrating that this decision was not made in the public interest.
For the time being, he is of the opinion that it is the suspension of Ms. Rondeau’s decision that would not be in the public interest: having to tell the accused and victims that the trial date no longer holds would a “devastating effect. »
Judge Nollet also highlights this posture of Quebec: the government is asking for a stay, but has not demanded a return to the situation that existed before. What use will a reprieve be if we don’t know what path the judge will choose? he asks before deciding: “The stay does not solve anything. »
He therefore rejects the request, but sees a solution: the holding of a trial in the very near future.
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