Quebec accuses the chief judge of aggravating the problem of criminal delays

The executive branch and the judiciary continue to clash in court over the number of days judges will sit to hear criminal cases. Quebec accuses the Chief Judge of the Court of Quebec, Lucie Rondeau, of aggravating the problem of delays before the courts, while the magistrate holds her end and denounces this government interference in the sacrosanct principle of judicial independence .

The Quebec government was back in court on Tuesday to ask the Superior Court to suspend a decision made last December by the Chief Justice.

The latter had informed the government in December that the judges of its Criminal Division would henceforth sit every other working day – rather than two out of three (ratio of 1:1 rather than 2:3), the rest of the time being used for study cases and write judgments. She advised him that this plan would be implemented in September 2022 – which was indeed done.

Its objective is to lighten the workload of judges in order to maintain the quality of justice delivered to citizens, she explained. Trials have become much more complex and lengthy over time, with many constitutional challenges to sections of the Criminal Code, she notes. She thus called for 41 more judges in order to reduce delays for litigants.

Quebec protested: impossible to appoint so many judges in such a short time: the process involves several stages, including going through all the parliamentary stages of modifying the law.

Among the exhibits filed with the Court is the following: a document signed in November 2021 by the president of the Conference of Judges of the Court of Quebec, Serge Champoux, which summarizes, among other things, a meeting between the board of directors of the Conference and Chief Justice.

He reports that the latter had committed in July to implementing the new 1:1 ratio, several months before the Minister of Justice was officially notified. It also reads: “She added that if the Minister does not react to the request, she will still put in place the 1:1 ratio. »

Counsel for the Attorney General of Quebec, Mr.e Éric Cantin, deplores the method of negotiation chosen to obtain more resources: it is « putting a gun to the head of the government », he pleaded on Tuesday. “Why not take the time to find solutions without the files exploding? »

The problem of delays already existed before the judge’s decision, noted Superior Court Judge Pierre Nollet, who was hearing the case.

« The judge’s decision adds to the problem, » retorted Me Canteen. “We are already in a difficult context […] and it leaves as the only solution to add 41 judges. The Supreme Court has however already told us that we must avoid this « bargaining » between the executive and the judiciary.

public interest

According to the lawyer for the Attorney General, the public interest requires a suspension of the judge’s decision, so that the victims do not have to wait even longer before the trials take place and do not have to “their life on pause. »

There are other factors that militate for the public interest, intervened the magistrate: that the judges have the time and the serenity necessary to render justice. If they go on sick leave because of their workload, « we’re no further ahead, » he said.

Judge Rondeau’s lawyer pointed out that this Quebec action was a “first”. Never has a decision of a chief justice in relation to the assignment of resources been challenged in this way, launched Mr.e Marc-Andre Fabien. Usually, he says, the attorney general is the defender and protector of judicial independence. “But here, the roles are reversed: he is the slayer. »

Moreover, he pointed out: the decision to modify the ratio is “not a personal whim” of the chief justice: it was taken in collegiality with the other magistrates of the Court. The summary of Judge Serge Champoux also mentions it.

The Attorney General is only concerned with the speed of rendering justice while Judge Rondeau is concerned with its quality, he accused.

And if this judge’s decision is suspended, all the court rolls will have to be redone, he warned. » It’s impossible. We cannot undo what has been done. The government should have acted earlier, he argued. Quebec’s request would lead to chaos, without providing a solution, added his colleague Me Vincent Cerat Lagana.

Judge Nollet took the case under advisement.

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