Access to Justice During COVID-19 and the Jordan Case.

AuthorTuttle, Myrna El Fakhry

How are delays in court processes due to COVID-19 considered when assessing the Jordan time limits for the right to be tried within a reasonable time?

In March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Since then, the pandemic has affected the functioning of many institutions, including the courts given the lockdown on court staff, judges, prosecutors, and lawyers.

Across Canada, courts adjourned their activities and provided minimum service where trials and proceedings were cancelled or postponed. Consequently, a broad range of human rights were impacted, including the right to access justice in a timely, fair, and effective way.

Access to Justice

Access to justice is a basic principle of the rule of law. In simple terms, access to justice means the ability to appear in court. But it can also include the broader social context of the court system and the obstacles that some members of the community might face.

The Chief Justice of Canada, the Right Honourable Richard Wagner stated:

Access to justice means informing individuals of tools and services that are available. Access to justice allows individuals to get legal assistance when needed, it informs them of their right to counsel, and having courts that can settle their issues in a timely and efficient manner. Access to justice means getting justice for everyone not only a few. Fair Trial and Reasonable Time

Section 11(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter) protects against excessive delays by saying the accused has the right to a trial in a reasonable time.

Section 11(d) of the Charter provides that "any person charged with an offence has the right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal."

Long delays can have serious consequences. When a judge finds that an accused has been denied their constitutional right to be tried within a reasonable time under section 11(b) of the Charter, that judge can order a stay of proceedings and dismiss the charges instead.

The Jordan Case

In 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada established a new framework in R v Jordan regarding court delays.

In December 2008, Barrett Richard Jordan and nine others were charged with criminal offences relating to drug possession and trafficking in the lower mainland area of British Columbia. For different reasons, Jordan's trial did not begin until September 2012 and did not end until early 2013. He waited over four years after being charged to learn...

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