Friday, April 21, 2006

Will Alberta Produce the Next Major Askov Decision?

Particularly in Calgary and its surrounding circuit points, Alberta courtrooms are becoming increasingly packed...and the backlog is getting dangerously close to producing a situation where thousands of criminal cases may be stayed simply because there are not enough resources for matters to be brought to trial within a reasonable time.

In the landmark case known as R. v. Askov, the Province of Ontario was forced to drop more than 50,000 cases outright because the backlog was too large and the rights of accused persons to a fair trial within a reasonable time were being breached.

In Strathmore, AB trial dates are this week being set for the middle of March, 2007...a few days shy of 11 months down the road.

The Askov standard suggests that matters should be brought to trial within 8 to 10 months in the normal course, with some extension being acceptable for more complex matters or for particularly busy jurisdictions.

The Alberta Government seems to know that they are in trouble as they have recently announced a number of new judges and prosecutors will be hired to help ease the caseload...but the looming question is whether such measures will prove to be too little too late.

Defence lawyers should be particularly alert to maintain their client's Askov rights at each pre-trial court appearance because it may take a while for any of the new resources to actually work their way into the system...and in the interim, the delays may be your proverbial "ace in the hole".


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