Legal Aid Alberta to intervene in Supreme Court youth appeal

How long should young people have to wait for their criminal charges to go to trial? The Supreme Court of Canada may answer this question in a case scheduled for this February – and Legal Aid Alberta will have an opportunity to argue that under the new Jordan framework, there should be a lower “presumptive ceiling” for youth proceedings.

In R. v. Jordan, released in 2016, the Supreme Court suggested that cases in Provincial Court should go to trial within 18 months of charges being laid. But it is not clear whether this same presumptive ceiling applies to young people charged under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, or whether a lower ceiling should apply in youth court.

The Alberta Court of Appeal was divided on the issue, with one judge suggesting that the ceiling should be lowered, to reflect the unique ways that young people perceive time.

In its successful application for intervener status, it argued that the Youth Criminal Justice Act’s special focus on “promptness and speed” should guide how the Supreme Court interprets Section 11(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Supreme Court case could affect the practice of Legal Aid’s staff lawyers, many of whom act for young people charged with criminal offences.

“More importantly, this appeal may have a significant impact on Legal Aid’s youngest clients – many of whom are vulnerable, marginalized, and rely on Legal Aid’s Youth Office to act as their voice in the criminal justice system,” Legal Aid wrote in its application.

Although some trial courts have struggled to implement the Jordan ruling, Legal Aid cited statistics suggesting a lower presumptive ceiling is a realistic target in youth court.

“Even before Jordan, a large majority of non-homicide youth proceedings were resolved in less than a year,” wrote Dane Bullerwell, appellate counsel at Legal Aid. “The youth justice system is already moving faster than the adult system. There is no reason to believe that the youth justice system could not accommodate a modest reduction in the Jordan ceiling.”

Bullerwell and Youth Office lawyer Susan Haas will appear on behalf of Legal Aid in the Supreme Court on February 23.

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