| Oct 22, 2009

Back to HomeEditorial - October 22, 2009Sharbot Lake court Ill served by CrownEditorial by Jeff Green

It takes considerable effort from all parties to make a monthly court in a rural community work, and there are obvious limitations to such a court. Any case that will take longer than a day to resolve must be transferred, so only relatively straightforward cases are dealt with at the Sharbot Lake Court, which is a satellite of the Kingston Court.

The court officers, the clerk, the recorder, the parole officer, all have to bring themselves and whatever paperwork or equipment they need for the day with them, and they do.

The Judge, Peter Wright, who has presided over the court for years, works the rest of the week in Ottawa, so he is an outsider to the ways of the Kingston court system. He has made considerable efforts over the years to contribute to the efficiency of the court, and over the past couple of years has been pushing hard to keep cases moving through his court. Since all adjournments are for one month at least, rather than a week or two as is typical in an urban court, Judge Wright has been pressing accused persons and their lawyers to come to court prepared to resolve their cases quickly. While this does not always work, the court has been working better and better over the past couple of years, and in particular this year.

The local detachment has maintained the same officer in the court for years. Carl Wagar, who took over when Gord Beattie retired, provides technical information and local knowledge to the court.

But the same cannot be said for the Crown’s office in Kingston. Information is often not available to the defense, causing delay after delay. It seems as if the Crown hires lawyers on a one-day contract to work the Sharbot Lake day, which is considered to be some sort of remote posting. There are hundreds of people who drive south to Kingston to work each day, 52 weeks a year, without any particular difficulty, but the drive the other way seems to be a hardship for some.

The Crown representative, then, is often a fish out of water. They are rarely familiar with the cases, and never seem to know how long the cases have been before the court. Essentially, they wing it. When cases come to trial, as they sometimes do, the Crown rarely has anything resembling a strategy, so they often don’t press inconsistencies in witness testimony. In place of logic, they are often left with only bluster to fall back on.

This is not due to incompetence; it is the result of a severe lack of preparation, and I can’t help thinking that the Crown’s office does a better job back home in Kingston, although I may be wrong. I can’t imagine they do a worse job.

This ongoing problem came to a head this week, when

there were two cases up for trial.

In the first case, the Crown had not been able to find the evidence they needed and withdrew the charges.

In the second case, the Crown’s office realized, just last week it appears, that their principal witness, the arresting officer, would be on vacation this week - this, in spite of the date being checked when the trial was set, and the trial date being confirmed two months ago as well.

So, when the Crown came to Sharbot Lake and asked for an adjournment Judge Wright said no, and the trial went ahead.

And a short trial it was. The accused pled not guilty on two charges; the Crown had no case to make; the charges were dismissed. It all took less than a minute.

In one sense, the accused is the big winner in all of this. He did not have to face a real trial.

But in another sense the accused was not given the opportunity to face the accusations against him and prove they were not grounded in fact. His case was dismissed; he is walking away, but we don’t know why.

As well, all of those people who come to court knowing they are guilty, and who decide not to waste the court’s time and plead guilty right away are left wondering if they made the most advantageous decision. Maybe they should play out the string, put things off, and hope that at the end of the day the Crown will mess up once again.

This is contrary to everything Judge Wright, and judges everywhere, are trying to accomplish.

The best thing the Kingston Crown’s office could do is assign one person to represent them in Sharbot Lake, and provide that person with the advance information they need to give them a bit of dignity when they walk into the township hall/courtroom once a month.

It could be incompetence in the Crown’s office that is behind this situation, or a disdain for the Sharbot Lake Court. In either case, it does the Crown’s reputation no good, and it does the justice system a disservice.

The judge, the court, the defense attorneys, the police and even the accused have made the Sharbot Lake court more effective over the past couple of years.

The Crown has made a mockery of it.

When an accused person misses a court date, a warrant is issued for their arrest. When they are not prepared, they face consequences, and risk being charged with contempt of court.

The Crown faces no consequences for similar breaches. There must be some means for the Crown to be held accountable for the contempt they have been showing to the court they are supposed to be serving. 

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