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In every criminal court in the Ontario Court of Justice, justice participants are 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 and benchmarks to monitor progress.
Giving people more information earlier so that they can make decisions sooner is a theme behind many of the initiatives aimed at making court appearances more productive and meaningful. This includes forms handed out to accused at the time of arrest; or conducting court orientation sessions; and opening an information desk or a check-in office where accused receive disclosure (the evidence collected during the police investigation), find out about local services available to them, or find out if they are eligible for the Direct Accountability or Mental Health programs.
Leaders at some court locations have streamlined the local intake processes, which can include timelines, to ensure less complex cases are resolved or set for trial more efficiently.
As recommended by the Bail Experts Table, local bail committees have been formed, or bail items highlighted by the BET are being added as a regular agenda item, at every Ontario Court of Justice location. This is helping to ensure that local bail processes are discussed and issues identified and addressed. As a result, coordination and communication among all justice participants is improving.
This approach includes an initial disclosure package earlier in the process to allow Crown and Defence to screen key material sooner, so that people can make decisions sooner. Police and Crown Attorneys are also working together to modernize disclosure processes so that both the quality and timeliness of disclosure is improved.
Justice participants are finding ways to maximize use of existing video conferencing equipment, such as video pleas. As recommended by the Bail Experts Table, criminal court leaders are exploring ways of expanding video for use in bail appearances and hearings.
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.
Facilitating Defence and Duty Counsel discussions with in-custody clients may reduce the number of appearances and time between appearances for in-custody accused. Some sites are using video equipment or emerging technology to link to correctional facilities so that lawyers can schedule private and secure consultations with in-custody clients.
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 less complex cases sooner, court time and space is freed up to have plea courts available every day of the week.
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.
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. While referral to Direct Accountability is at the discretion of the Crown Attorney, people who are eligible for the program can often begin to take responsibility for their actions before the first court appearance. Learn more about Direct Accountability.
Many sites have taken steps to facilitate earlier discussions between prosecutors and Defence Counsel. For example, some sites have developed Resolution Offices that put Crowns physically closer to the Court and Defence Counsel so that timely resolution talks can be held, before the court appearance.