POLITICS
06/13/2011 04:14 EDT | Updated 08/13/2011 05:12 EDT

Mega-Trial Bill For Complicated Criminal Cases Returns, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson Wants Bill C-53 Passed Fast

CP

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OTTAWA - The federal government has introduced a bill to speed up "mega-trials" in complicated criminal cases.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson wants the legislation passed by month's end.

The new urgency stems from a case in which 31 alleged Hells Angels bikers walked out of a Montreal courthouse last month after a judge found their trials would take too long.

A mega-trials bill was first introduced in November but died with the dissolution of Parliament in March for the May 2 general election.

The Conservatives are counting on the unanimous support of the opposition so the bill can be passed before the House of Commons adjourns this month.

Last week, the NDP indicated it was willing to support a mega-trial bill, and that they expected the Liberals to support one as well.

"In the last Parliament, Bill C-53 was here," NDP justice critic Joe Comartin told the Commons. "We could have passed it at that time if the government had moved on it."

The mega-trials bill has been separated from a larger omnibus crime bill the Tories will introduce in September.

The Tories pledged to introduce and pass all their tough-on-crime legislation in one package of bills within the first 100 sitting days of their new majority government.

A key feature of the new law would allow for the appointment of a case management judge who would hear pre-trial motions for groups of accused people, help pare down witness lists and impose deadlines on prosecution and defence lawyers.

The bill would also do away with the duplication of efforts within the already stretched criminal-justice system by allowing joint hearings on pre-trial motions for multiple accused.

It also contains provisions to swear in extra jurors to act as replacements if needed in lengthy trials.

The Air India inquiry endorsed the idea of mega-trials legislation. The inquiry looked at the 1985 terrorist attack on an Air India jetliner that killed 329 people, most of them Canadian.