Moving trials along an ongoing struggle, top judge concedes
Canada’s top judge has acknowledged that the nation’s justice system can be perceived as “too slow and too expensive,” particularly for ordinary citizens trying to resolve civil disputes.
In an interview broadcast on CTV’s Question Period Sunday, Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin said expediting trials while still following proper procedure is an ongoing difficulty.
“I think we’re recognizing that we have a problem on the civil side and on the criminal side. We have to get trials heard more quickly,” she said. “This is a constant struggle because it is a complex and difficult business: to gather all the evidence, to get the proper disclosure and so on.”
To ease the judicial process along, McLachlin suggested that more pre-trial planning could take place so prosecutors and judges can review resources and try to anticipate problems before they occur.
“The more we have pre-trial planning, the more we have adequate resources so that we don’t have to have adjournments for one reason or another,” she said.
In the same interview, Justice McLachlin also shared her thoughts on Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which she referred to as a “mature document” now.
McLachlin said it was very much "up for grabs" how the Charter would affect Canadian jurisprudence when it was adopted 30 years ago.
"You had scholars saying the court would go very, very conservatively, others saying it would be a broader interpretation," McLachlin said in the interview from Ottawa.
"I like to think that the first 30-odd years of the jurisprudence is something we can be proud of," she added, explaining that judges across the country now have a good handle on the implications of what she now sees as a "fairly mature document."
Canada was the first Commonwealth nation to adopt its a bill of rights. When the Pierre Trudeau government enacted the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as part of the Constitution Act of 1982, many analysts excpected issues to arise over the controversial "notwithstanding clause" which allows Parliament or provincial legislatures to override certain portions of the Charter.
In her view, McLachlin said, "I think that we have the first phase fleshed out, the various rights and the way the Charter works in a comprehensible, defensible way so people know what it means, how it applies. And then we've had fine tuning in the decades that have followed."
McLachlin, originally from Alberta, was first appointed a judge at the County Court of Vancouver in 1981. She went on to serve on the bench of the Supreme Court of British Columbia before her appointment to the country's top court by then-prime minister Brian Mulroney in 1989.
She served as a Justice of the Supreme Court for 11 years before she was made the first female Chief Justice of Canada.
During her time at the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court has ruled on a number of controversial cases including the rights of the criminally accused and the legalities of same-sex marriage.
In her rare broadcast interview Sunday, McLachlin conceded that there may indeed be other Charter rights or freedoms that the justices of the Supreme Court have yet to tackle.
"A lot of work we do now is nuance, fine tuning, maybe developing, moving things along a little bit. That's the way the law works. A new situation comes up and so the question in everybody's mind is how will this right be interpreted in light of that new situation. So that's the kind of work we're mainly engaged in now."