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In every criminal court in the Ontario Court of Justice, justice participants finding better ways of moving cases through the criminal justice system, while respecting their independent roles. Some of these initiatives are unique. Some have been adapted from best practices developed at other sites. Using the strategy’s evidence-based approach, local leaders use data to inform their work.
Giving people more information earlier so that they can make decisions sooner is a theme behind many of the new initiatives implemented locally under the heading of "Meaningful First Appearances." Many sites are creating forms handed out to accused at the time of arrest or conducting orientation sessions to help people better prepare for court.
This innovative system changes the way Crown Offices are structured and cases are managed. Dedicated prosecution allows prosecutors to better monitor the progress of cases and focus on substantive decisions earlier in the court process, helping to complete cases faster.
Some sites have taken steps to put Resolution Crowns physically closer to the Court and Defence Counsel so that timely resolution talks can be held.
This approach includes an initial and much-reduced disclosure package earlier in the process to allow Crown and Defence to screen key material sooner. A second, more detailed disclosure would be made if a decision is made to go to trial. This "two-step," streamlined disclosure process ensures that all justice participants, including Crown, Defence Counsel and accused persons, get the information they need earlier in the process.
The people who work in our courthouses every day report that some straightforward cases often spend as much time in the court system and command as much of the province's justice resources, as the most serious, complex cases. An Appearance Standard recognizes that it would be beneficial to have a standard number of appearances for most matters, after which most cases should be either set down for trial or otherwise resolved. In addition to an appearance standard, some local leaders have set a timeline by which straightforward matters are either resolved or set for trial.
Justice participants are finding ways to make Plea Courts available when an accused wants to plead guilty at a scheduled appearance. Some sites have found that by resolving simple cases sooner, court time and space is freed up to have plea courts available every day of the week.
Direct Accountability recognizes that in order to hold offenders accountable to their community, some low-risk offences are more effectively addressed outside of the formal criminal court process. Sanctions could include community service, restitution, donation to a charity or attending programming or counselling. New guidelines ensure that measures are taken earlier in the court process - before the first appearance, where possible.
Justice participants are finding ways to make maximum use of existing video conferencing equipment, such as video pleas or scheduling private and secure consultations between Defence Counsel and in-custody accused. This recognizes that facilitating Defence Counsel discussions with in-custody clients may also reduce the number of appearances and time between appearances for in-custody accused.
Working together, local leaders in several communities are better coordinating prisoner pick up and drop off times with court schedules, the order in which prisoners are brought into court, and the scheduling of video remand links to institutions. Each of these can impact the time spent transferring prisoners to and from, and within the courthouse or correctional facilities.
Local Leadership Teams at several large to medium sites have implemented initiatives to reduce the number of appearances in the bail phase of a criminal case. Enhancements include coordinating the order in which accused are brought into court from the cells, consent release protocols, and taking steps to ensure the case is screened by the Crown's office and a sentencing and bail position is available for Defence or Duty Counsel before court, if possible.
When the strategy began its work in mid-2008, eight locations across the province had an on-site legal aid application office. Today, 57 court sites have an on-site office or Legal Aid staff available at the court to process Legal Aid Ontario applications.