Opinion: A ponderously slow justice system brings itself into disrepute

Well said William Watson:

One less commented-on aspect of the tragic twin murders of our soldiers in October was the swift — in fact, immediate — dispensation of justice in both cases. The murderers, and does anyone doubt that’s what they were, were killed by the authorities. Their killing was not the deliberate administration of justice, but self-defence by police engaged in hot pursuit. 

We’re a country that officially, at least, disapproves of the death penalty, even if three in five of us keep telling pollsters we want it brought back. Our elected officials certainly disapprove of it, for they don’t bring it back. Even so, there was an abrupt finality to these two tragedies that I suspect most people are grateful for. (Just to be clear: the tragedies include how two apparently ordinary Canadian boys could have got themselves so twisted up as to do such crimes). Had the murderers lived, how long would their trials have taken? Would they have been finished by 2016? 2017? And can we be completely sure the verdicts would have been just? 

Here in Quebec, we’re still awaiting the formal trial of the person accused of the murder of a technician backstage at the victory celebrations of Pauline Marois the night she won herself a minority government in September 2012. Marois has had her government, has lost another election and is now retired from politics. But the trial isn’t starting until next year. Granted, it’s a difficult case, with the accused running his own defence. But we’re closing in on two and a quarter years from a crime for which there is no other suspect. 

We’re also now eight weeks — eight weeks — into the trial of a young man who does not dispute that, in May 2012, two and a half years ago, he killed another young man, videoed and posted the murder online, chopped the victim up and mailed parts of his body to various destinations. What’s under discussion, in great detail, is the state of his mind when he did so. 

Last week, three McGill University students charged in April 2012 for a sexual assault that had allegedly occurred in September 2011 had their charges dismissed when in an email to the prosecutor one important witness contradicted the complainant’s version of events. The students were obviously and understandably relieved, but, as the lawyer for one of them said, “It’s a heavy burden to carry around charges of this nature.”

Mike Duffy’s trial doesn’t get underway until next April, about two and a half years after the story of his expenses first broke. Two and a half years seems the norm in these things. The trial is scheduled for 41 days. How long do you suppose Jian Ghomeshi’s trial will take?

Yes, it’s important to get things right. Yes, “the one innocent man condemned will do both judge and justice more harm than the 10 guilty who escape” (though do spare a moment’s worry about the harm 10 guilty folk set free may do the rest of us). And, yes, the accused sometimes bring delay upon themselves with frivolous motions of one kind or another. 

But a system that works so ponderously slowly brings itself into disrepute. Other countries do things differently. When I lived in France for a year, I remember the case of a fellow who was in a bar fight Saturday and was sentenced to jail time the following Thursday. 

It’s important to get things right. But does all the extra time our system takes really improve the quality of our results? On that, I suspect there’s room for reasonable doubt.

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