Early case resolution

Early case resolution

DATE: May 20, 2008

SUBJECT: EARLY CASE RESOLUTION

PURPOSE:

To establish a systematic prosecutor approach to Early Case Resolution, the aim of which is to insure the parties agree upon what can be agreed upon and settle what can be settled as early on in the criminal justice process as possible. As part of this process, the parties must be alert to the availability of such options as Alternative measures programs, Alternative Dispute Resolution programs, and Restorative or Community Justice Processes.

Early case resolution as practiced by Alberta Justice prosecutors recognizes that in our adversarial system there will always be cases which commit the full resources of both the state and the accused through to trial. This strategy seeks only to target those cases capable of early resolution or simplification and to deal with them in a way which is efficient, effective, and consistent with the better administration of justice. The appropriate disposition of charges and adherence to accepted sentencing ranges based upon the nature of the charge, the circumstances of the offence and the profile of the accused, are not affected by the adoption of ECR practices.

The practice rules for ECR are in addition to existing guidelines, best practices or need for communication with interested parties to proceedings. Any early case resolution effort requires prosecutors keep accurate records to inform future actions, whether or not agreements for early case resolution have been attained.

BACKGROUND:

Effective case management processes reduce the percentage of cases being set down for trial thereby leaving more resources available to deal with the matters which really need to engage the full attention of the criminal justice system.

To date ECR has produced remarkably positive results. Alberta is the only province in Canada which has seen a reduction in lead times in recent years. The Calgary and Edmonton police forces have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars from reduced overtime costs. And these savings do not reflect the fact that many other officers who would have been required to attend court during their regular shifts are now free to attend to their regular duties.

Lead times have been reduced. Significant numbers of victims and civilian and professional witnesses have been spared needless court appearances. Defence Counsel have improved access to disclosure and then to Crown Counsel at a very early stage in the process as well as an enhanced ability to schedule trials to suit the needs of their clients when a trial is necessary. Crown Counsel are better able to manage their case loads because they are not preparing nearly as many trial files, often on cases which ought not to proceed for a variety of reasons or which will be dealt with by way of plea at the courtroom door.

A committee was struck by the Chief Judge of the Provincial Court of Alberta in May of 2000 for the purpose of establishing appropriate processes to achieve a more efficient use of the resources available to the Provincial Court component of the criminal justice system. The committee was mandated to examine existing practices and procedures and offer practical solutions to systemic problems which tended to cause unnecessary delay in the processing of criminal cases.

The committee was comprised of representatives from the Provincial Court, Alberta Justice, the Federal Department of Justice, the R.C.M.P., municipal police forces including Edmonton and Calgary, the Law Society of Alberta, the Canadian Bar Association, the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association, and Legal Aid.

PRACTICE:

It is expected that all Crown offices and prosecutors will follow these ECR guidelines contained in a Practice Note to the bar from the Chief Judge of he Provincial Court:

  1. These rules apply to those cases where the accused is represented by counsel.
  2. Reference to the ‘parties’ is a reference to Crown Counsel and counsel representing the accused.
  3. Upon defence counsel first appearing in court in response to an information alleging an offence or offences, the court may adjourn the matter for a period of time, not exceeding six weeks (the resolution adjournment).
  4. During the resolution adjournment the following matters will be attended to:
    1. Crown Counsel will forthwith or as soon as possible effect disclosure of the case for the prosecution to Defence Counsel;
  5. Defence Counsel will then meet with the accused and review the disclosure material from the Crown;
  6. Defence Counsel will then consult with a prosecutor having authority to make all necessary decisions with respect to the case;
  7. The Crown will make available prosecutorial resources sufficient to to support a schedule flexible enough to accommodate the requests from Defence Counsel;
  8. A consultation will then take place to determine whether or not the matter is going to be addressed by way of resolution, or if it is to proceed to trial, whether any issues can be resolved and the number of witnesses and court time reduced.
  • If additional time is required to effect a resolution or significant reduction in the number of witnesses and required court time, then the parties may request a further resolution adjournment.
  • Where the parties elect to resolve the matter by way of a trial, either party may refer the matter to the court for the purpose of a pre-trial conference, if not otherwise ordered by the court.
  • In all cases where the matter is to be resolved by way of trial, the parties will schedule that trial for a mutually agreeable date to ensure insofar as possible that counsel and all witnesses are available on that date.
  • The parties will forthwith advise the court of any problems or circumstances which arise subsequently and may lead to the necessity to apply for an adjournment of the scheduled trial.