A triage court set up in Newmarket to reduce unnecessary court appearances is garnering mixed reviews from lawyers, with some fearful it’s pushing cases forward too quickly. (via Speedy triage court in Newmarket raises fears among defence lawyers - thestar.com)
- “The criminal justice system, given the consequences, should not be rushed,” says criminal lawyer J.S. Vijaya. “People should not be forced to make a decision until they know what cards lay on the table.”
- Triage court differs from the traditional system in having a judge start the day by determining which cases are ready for a trial or hearing. The selected cases are then sent to an available courtroom. An hour later, plea court starts in the triage room and guilty pleas are heard. If the case is not ready, it is rescheduled.
- “Triage court is a method of efficiently distributing trials to courts that are available to start them immediately,” said attorney general spokesman Brendan Crawley.
- The new system eliminates overbooking courtrooms to hear several cases, which can cause delays. “As a result, straightforward matters are resolved sooner and with fewer court appearances, leaving more resources available for the more serious and complex cases in the system,” Crawley said.
- However, one major concern raised by lawyers such as Vijaya is that the proximity of plea court encourages defendants to take a plea bargain earlier in the process, sometimes without legal advice or disclosure of crucial evidence.
- Triage court prevents defence lawyers from knowing who the judge is before the trial. “The No. 1 rule in any advocacy book is ‘know thy judge,’ ” Vijaya said. “It helps you prepare exactly what the judge may consider to be relevant.” Lawyers pay attention to judges’ personalities, the positions they’re likely to take on certain offences or their specific requirements for a guilty plea, he said.
- But criminal lawyer Marcy Segal said advance knowledge of the judge should not be essential. “Your case shouldn’t stand or fall depending on who the judge is,” Segal said. “Your case should stand or fall based on whether or not the Crown has proven the case beyond a reasonable doubt.” Segal said the triage court is a far better system, with trials being run more efficiently and being completed on the days they are set. She added that she can get a trial in Newmarket in six weeks to four months, compared with eight to 12 months in other jurisdictions.
- Statistics show the average number of appearances to complete a criminal case in Newmarket — where backlogs have forced serious criminal cases to be tossed out — dropped 11.7 per cent from 2007 to 2011.
- “You want to try to create an efficient system, but it can’t be so inflexible that you turn a blind eye to the nuances of various cases,” Young said.