The New Year will sweep in changes to criminal law in British Columbia, and to the way that BC criminal lawyers practice their profession. The year will bring new laws, challenges for the allocation of resources in the justice system, and ongoing debate about the ways to respond to high profile trials like those for people charged in the Vancouver Riot or for police officers accused of breaking the law. As always, feel free to add your comments in the section below the post.
The Conservatives' Omnibus Crime Bill C-10: A Triumph Of Misguided Principle Over Well-Reasoned Pragmatism
Barring some unexpected resistance in the Conservative-dominated Senate, Stephen Harper's crime bill will become law later this spring. Bill C-10 will create a number of laws that will make Canadian criminal law more harsh and less effective. The introduction of mandatory minimum sentences for crimes like production of marijuana will shift discretionary sentencing power from judges to prosecutors. Judges make sentencing decisions in public, and are subject to appeal. Prosecutors can raise or lower sentences by selecting the charge to be laid, and no one can doing anything about the decisions they make.
Immediate Roadside Prohibitions: BC Government Hits A Speed Bump On The Road To Decriminalization Of Impaired Driving
Just before Christmas, Mr. Justice Jon Sigurdson ordered that the declaration the the BC government's Immediate Roadside Prohibition law was unconstitutional should be postponed for six months at the request of the government, in order to give the government time to fix the law. That will allow the government to complete the decriminalization of impaired driving: despite the fact that impaired driving is the leading criminal cause of death in Canada, most impaired drivers in BC will never be charged with a crime. They will never go to court. They will be dealt with administratively, out of the public eye. There are two sides to this approach - politicians and public figures like teachers and policemen who are caught driving drunk will not have to worry about being exposed in a public court room or in the media, but people who believe they have not done anything wrong will have no forum in which to defend themselves.
This doesn't really make any sense, but it will save the BC government and the RCMP the expense of running trials in which people could defend themselves.
Over the last year, I've written a number of posts about the IRP.
Underfunding The Justice System: Justice Delayed
As a trial lawyer, I deal every day with the problems created by the BC government's decision to deprive the BC justice system of the resources it needs to run efficiently. The government has refused to appoint judges to replace those who have retired, it has refused to hire enough prosecutors, sheriffs and court staff to deal with the number of charges being put forward by the police. Cases are being stayed - terminated by court order before a trial - almost every day because delays have grown so long. Section 11(b) of the Charter of Rights guarantees the right to be tried in a reasonable time, and the courts will continue to enforce it.
Stays of proceedings are going to continue in the New Year. The reduction of charges laid in impaired driving cases will be offset by charges laid as a result of Bill C-10. I've written frequently about the underfunding of the BC justice system.
High Profile Prosecutions: Must Justice Be Seen To Be Done?
The trials of people charged with rioting in downtown Vancouver after the Boston Bruins defeated the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals will start sometime this year. BC Premier Christy Clark is playing to the mob by ordering prosecutors to apply to have these proceedings televised. Almost all trials in BC are open to the public - you or I can go to the court house and sit in the gallery, next to the family of the accused, the family of the victims and most importantly the members of the media who are there to report on the proceedings. Premier Clark wants to turn the trials of people selected by her or her office into spectacles for public consumption. This isn't fair to them, or to the BC justice system.