The B.C. Court of Appeal has upheld a lower court decision to drop the charges against two accused cocaine traffickers because B.C.’s congested court system couldn’t try them fast enough.
The prosecution of the two men was quashed in June of 2009 when the trial judge ruled the expected 62.5-month delay in the case getting to trial by the end of that year would be unreasonable.
The two men were stopped in September of 2004 in a car near Chilliwack where police opened a hidden compartment and found 20 kilograms of cocaine the suspects were accused of buying from suppliers in Burnaby.
The pair were part of what police said was a larger conspiracy to import the drug from the U.S. and transport it to Ontario.
The Crown had appealed the trial judge’s decision to quash the case, arguing in part that more of the delay should be attributed to the defence.
The three Appeal Court Justices concluded that while defence underestimated how much time would be needed to challenge the Crown’s wiretap evidence, the delays were “significantly compounded” by a lack of court resources.
“The leading motif running throughout the discussions is not the unavailability of counsel, but rather the inability of the court to find any time, let alone blocks of time beyond two-week segments, to carry on with the trial,” they said in the Jan. 10 decision.
“On every occasion when more time was required, the case was adjourned for at least a year before any time to continue it could be found.”
The Appeal Court also concluded that efforts to reduce the Provincial Court criminal case backlog were insufficient.
Court congestion has worsened in the nearly three years since the case was originally tossed out of court.
In September of 2010, the Provincial Court issued its Justice Delayed report, which sounded the alarm about a worsening shortage of judges and noted more than 2,000 adult criminal cases were in danger of being tossed because they were older than 18 months.
A one-year update to that report issued last September warned that backlog of criminal cases older than 18 months had grown to more than 2,500.