In recent testimony before a House of Commons Justice Committee, Toronto criminal lawyer Laurelly Dale said the elimination of preliminary hearings, as proposed by the federal government’s Bill C-75, would obstruct the administration of justice.
Dale noted, in the first of her four main points, “The removal of preliminary inquiries will not save time. This will have the reverse effect and result in more delay in court.”
Dale said that Crown attorneys have told her prelims help them organize their files, and weak cases are exposed and charges are withdrawn. And sometimes an accused person might review their position after seeing the evidence in a prelim and plead guilty. Both scenarios save time and money by avoiding jury trials, she said.
But even when a case does proceed to a jury trial, the preliminary hearings “help formulate accurate trial estimates and deal with front-end applications, discovery issues and motions.”
In the second plank of her testimony to the committee, Dale said the Crown and defence already have the tools that can be used to bypass the prelim — and it does happen. She said she often waives a prelim for a variety of reasons, while Crowns prefer indictments. And she warned against assuming “that preliminary hearings are utilized by the defence as a delay tactic or to earn higher fees per file.”
Dale told the committee in her third point that “Bill C-75 prioritizes false hope of efficiency over trial fairness,” and s. 7 of the Charter “guarantees to those accused of a crime both substantive and procedural safeguards.”
She said it’s important to remember that prelims are only available to those facing indictable offences, lengthy prison sentences and significant consequences if convicted. “This extra step adds a layer of protection against wrongful convictions of the most serious crimes,” Dale said.
Finally, Dale said that eliminating preliminary hearings ignores root causes of delay which in fact are “mandatory minimum sentences, disclosure practices, and self-represented litigants.”
She predicted the move will ultimately result in lengthy and expensive Superior Court trials becoming the norm “causing a demand for resources that our system cannot fulfil. There is no data to support Bill C-75. My experience and the available data suggests that eliminating preliminary hearings will, in fact, cause significant delay.”
Originally published in the Advocate Daily October 1st, 2018: https://www.advocatedaily.com/profile/laurelly-dale-dale-testifies-on-bill-c-75-before-parliamentary-committee.html