The judiciary system threatens to reach an unprecedented level of “criticism” by the end of the summer due to the controversial reform of the work schedule of judges at the Québec Supreme Court. According to the Justice Department, up to 9,000 criminal cases are at risk simply because of the Chief Justice’s decision.
Posted at 5:00 am
At the same time, a new report prepared for Quebec criticizes the “master document” justifying the Rondeau reform, calling it “radical and one-sided administrative measures […] designed[s] specifically to hold the government hostage.”
This litigation, both judicial and political, concerns the decision of Chief Justice of the Québec Court of Justice Lucie Rondeau to increase the deliberation time of judges in criminal and criminal cases at the expense of their time spent in the courtroom. Attorney General Simon Jolin-Barrette has been trying for months to have the higher courts overturn this “unilateral” decision.
Since September 2022, judges have enjoyed one day of deliberation (ratio 1:1) for each day of sitting, while previously they sat for two days and deliberated on day three (ratio 2:1). A net loss of 4617 hearing days.
To compensate, the chief justice is asking for 41 new judges, but Quebec refuses.
New projections from the Justice Department put 48,000 to 55,000 cases in August 2023 to exceed the 18-month ceiling of Jordan’s verdict if judges’ rosters are reshuffled. These cases therefore run the risk of being the subject of requests for dismissal of the court proceedings for undue delay.
These forecasts are similar to those presented by the Justice Department last summer — which the Quebec court described as “incongruent” and “irrational” scenarios.
In a new report presented in evidence to the Court of Appeals, the author “more accurately” concludes that nearly 20% of these cases, or approximately 9,000, “were directly attributable to the change of circumstances in the Quebec court.” The other causes would be the result of “past trends”. Let’s think, for example, of the serious shortage of staff that plagues the judiciary.
Moreover, the current situation could prove “even more problematic” if all jurisdictions fully implement this new ratio, the December 22 report underscores.
Last September, an 8% drop in the number of sessions was observed in Quebec. However, there are significant differences between boroughs: a notable drop of 17% to 22% in Quebec City, Gatineau and Joliette, a slight drop of 4% in Montreal and even a slight increase in Longueuil and Laval.
In Montreal, delays in setting a two-day trial date for a defendant at large have increased from 10 to 13 months in just one year, according to a table from the Quebec court included in evidence in a Jordanian application. In December 2019, just five months later, a trial could be scheduled.
The Chief Justice justifies its reform with the increasing complexity of the law since the Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into force in 1982 and with the heavy workload resulting from the numerous written applications and decisions that have to be made. The old schedule “compromises quality justice” in his eyes.
The cornerstone of the Rondeau reform is the report entitled “The Evolution of the Function of Judge” written by retired judge Maurice Galarneau last year. In an affidavit last November, the Chief Justice affirmed that the conclusions of the “Galarneau Report” had never been questioned.
However, a 60-page expert report submitted by Quebec refutes the conclusions of the “Galarneau Report”.
“It is impossible, in the words of the Honorable Judge Galarneau, to recognize the emergency situation which could justify the recommended action. […] Additional intellectual comfort is sought in the performance of these functions,” concludes author Me Pierre Lapointe, who was longtime Deputy Attorney General.
The “Galarneau Report” does not contain “objective data” to assess the extent of the task of the judges, argues Me Lapointe.
In fact, there hasn’t been a “significant” increase in the factors assessed by Judge Galarneau for 25 years, a Justice Department statistical analysis shows. The number of open criminal proceedings has even been declining since 2012, the author adds.
One of the main reasons for the Rondeau reform relates to the increase in requests over the past 40 years. However, analysis of 8,000 legal acts shows that inquiries are steadily declining, concludes Me Lapointe. In 2021, 4.8% of cases were the subject of an application, compared to 6% in 2013-2014.
“These data are not robust enough to justify a consistent and generalized adoption of a new ratio for all Quebec cases,” Me Lapointe says, noting that 92% of criminal cases are likely to be resolved before trial or on the first day of trial not be the subject of applications.
The Quebec-commissioned report concludes that the “Galarneau Report” should also have considered the “perverse effect” of its recommendations. “It is to be feared that the judiciary will have to process a large number of applications for unreasonable delays at short notice due to this measure,” the author concludes.
The Higher Regional Court is expected to hear the parties in 2023.
141,781 Number of active cases projected in August 2023 after changing the ratio
48,458 Projected number of cases over 18 months of age in August 2023 in the most optimistic scenario
Source: QUEBEC DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE